Tag Archives: New Jersey State Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association

Butterfly Wings Build A Playground — And More

Last month, the Board of Education accepted a very generous gift. The New Jersey State Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association is donating a $117,000 playground to Long Lots Elementary School.

As “06880” reported, the firefighters are paying forward — to communities struck by Hurricane Sandy, and near Newtown — the kindness they were shown after in New Jersey after the storm. Seven years earlier, following Hurricane Katrina, the same firefighters had built playgrounds along the Gulf Coast.

Westport was chosen by relatives of Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victim Dylan Hockley, because of a family connection here.

Butterfly magnet Long Lots playgroundWestport firefighters and Public Works, Gault Energy, Kowalsky Brothers and AJ Penna Construction are all donating time, labor and materials to prepare the site for the new playground. Sunrise Rotary is contributing funds.

The groundbreaking on June 7 will be a community event. Jake Hockley — Dylan’s brother — will be the “foreman,” and cut a ceremonial ribbon. 26 butterflies — one for every student and educator killed in Newtown — will be released into the air.

In addition to being beautiful, the butterflies symbolize the Butterfly Effect: Something as small as a butterfly flapping its wings can cause change halfway around the world. Dylan’s parents, Nicole and Ian, call Dylan their butterfly. He — and the 25 others who died — can be a catalyst for change, they say.

But the effort does not end there.

Butterfly Effect t-shirtThe Long Lots PTA has created “Butterfly Effect” t-shirts (left and below) and car magnets (above). Part of the money raised will go to Sandy Ground: Where Angels Play. That’s the umbrella organization coordinating the construction of 26 playgrounds in the tri-state area, of which Long Lots is one.

The rest will go to Dylan’s Wings of Change, a memorial fund created in his memory to provide support for children — like him — with autism, and other special needs.

They’re also selling Sandy Ground bracelets ($5, at Elvira’s, Christie’s Country Store and Wishlist).

Long Lots — and Westport — received a wonderful gift. The New Jersey firefighters and Hockley family say they’re just paying it forward.

Now we’ve got a chance to do the same.

(T-shirts for $10, and “Butterfly Effect” magnets for $5, are for sale at Christie’s Country Store on Saturday, May 18 from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m, and at a table near the Westport Y at the Memorial Day parade. Requests can also be sent to goodygirls@mac.com. If you’d just like to donate to the cause, send a check payable to “Long Lots PTA” to Lauren Goodman, Long Lots Elementary School, 13 Hyde Lane, Westport, CT 06880).

Butterfly 2

Paying It Far Forward: From Mississippi And New Jersey To Long Lots

Tonight, the Board of  Education will vote to build a $117,000 playground at Long Lots Elementary School.

And it won’t cost Westport taxpayers a dime.

It’s a gift from the New Jersey State Firefighters’ Mutual Benevolent Association.

And if you wonder — as I did — why the NJSFMBA is donating a playground to an affluent town 2 states away: read on.

Sandy Ground logo

The donation is part of the “Sandy Ground: Where Angels Play” project. Based in Rahway, NJ, it honors all 26 victims of the Sandy Hook shootings, while also helping communities in the tri-state area hit hard by Hurricane Sandy.

A week after the storm devastated much of the New Jersey coast, Billy Lamb called the NJFMBA state office. The Mississippi businessman remembered New Jersey firefighters, and the playgrounds they built there in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Lamb said the communities of Waveland and Bay St.  Louis, Mississippi were collecting Christmas gifts for New Jersey children affected by the storm. They were “paying it forward” to those who had showed such kindness in their own hour of need.

During a nor'easter, Gail Cunningham Coen welcomed Waveland mayor Tommy Longo to her Compo Beach home.

During a nor’easter, Gail Cunningham Coen welcomed Waveland mayor Tommy Longo to her Compo Beach home.

(Waveland and Pass Christian are well known to Westport. Gail Cunningham Coen is senior vice president of Keep America Beautiful, and has worked hard to rebuild both communities. She’s even hosted their mayors here.)

In December a trailer containing over 1,000 wrapped Christmas toys arrived from Mississippi, for Monmouth County kids.

The gesture energized exhausted NJFMBA members.  Unfortunately, at the same time the nation was reeling from the shooting of 20 children and 6 adults, not far away in Newtown, Connecticut.

The NJFMBA wanted to do something to help — but how could New Jersey firefighters be productive and meaningful? Suddenly — thanks to the gifts from Mississippi — the playgrounds they’d built 7 years earlier provided the answer.

“The Sandy Ground Project: Where Angels Play” was born.

So 26 playgrounds — in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut — will be built,  in an attempt to connect 2 tragedies that eerily share the same name.

Dylan Hockley

Dylan Hockley

The Long Lots playground honors Dylan Hockley, the little boy who’d moved to Sandy Hook from England 2 years ago, and who died wrapped in the arms of his teacher, Anne Marie Murphy.

The total cost could reach $2 million.  But when NJFMBA members debated whether it could be done, they kept coming up with the same answer. Not only could it be done; it had be done.

Pending approval of the gift (!), construction will begin next month.

But you can thank the New Jersey State Firefighters’ Mutual Benevolent Association any time you want.

(“The Sandy Ground Project: Where Angels Play” can be reached at 1447 Campbell St., Rahway, NJ 07065; www.thesandygroundproject.org; 732-499-9250.)

(Click on the video below, or click here for a direct link to YouTube.)