FAIRFIELD, Conn. – A collection of Jessica Rekos’ favorite things were on display on Fairfield’s Penfield Beach on Saturday.
The 6-year-old loved horses, so the group Pony Rides for Jessica brought some of their ponies to walk along the shore. She loved orcas, so a Fairfield firefighter sculpted a replica of the black-and-white whale in the sand. And she loved to laugh, so the playground built in her honor was filled with kids laughing and playing.
Jessica was one of the 26 students and teachers who died at Sandy Hook School last Dec. 14. Exactly nine months after that tragic day, she was the latest to have a playground dedicated in her honor across the northeast by the Sandy Ground Project.
“Jessica gave us six years, seven months and four days of pure happiness,” said Krista Rekos, Jessica’s mother. “I hope the children of this community feel that happiness here on this playground.”
The New Jersey Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association launched the Sandy Ground Project late last year. The firefighters’ idea is to honor each of the 26 victims of the Newtown school shooting with a playground, each placed in a community that was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy less than two months before the shooting.
Each of the 26 families connected to the Sandy Hook tragedy chose the site of the playground in their loved one’s honor. The Rekos family chose Fairfield because Krista attended Fairfield University’s nursing school.
Current students and alumni from the school helped with the construction of the playground, along with firefighters from departments all over Connecticut and New Jersey, local construction companies and family and friends of Rich and Krista Rekos.
The Fairfield playground will be the first of the Sandy Ground sites to feature a bell bearing an inscription from “It’s a Wonderful Life:” “Every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings.” The bell was made by the same company that produced the prop for the movie, through a coincidence.
Lavin said he got the idea from a girl in Mississippi, who the NJFMBA had helped after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The girl sent Christmas gifts to New Jersey to “pay it forward” after Hurricane Sandy last year. The girl suggested the bell in a letter to Lavin along with the gifts.
Fairfield First Selectman Michael Tetreau thanked the firefighters, sponsors and volunteers for showing that “community doesn’t stop at a town line.”
“That’s one of the big takeaways from last December,” Tetreau added. “We’re all one community. We’re all sharing this.”