Local parents raise funds for children’s park – December 5th, 2014 December 5, 2014 15:58

by Michelle Babcock
December 05, 2014 12:22 AM

A group of dedicated local mothers is pushing forward with plans to build a park in remembrance of children who died, and in celebration of those who lived.

With $43,000 raised so far toward the $90,000 it will cost to purchase the property for the park in Canton, organizers are still working hard to ensure the project continues as planned. The park is expected to cost $1 million to complete.

The story of the park began a decade ago, when Canton mom Christy Zeigler gave birth to twins 13 weeks early.

“Born so premature, they still seemed healthy, and we were told it would be a long road but they should do OK,” Zeigler recalled. “Seventeen hours later, it was like an out of body experience to watch ourselves saying goodbye to our newborn baby girl.”

Zeigler’s other twin is alive and well — a happy 10-year-old boy.

“In an act of kindness toward me, the doctors and staff agreed to let Alexis be laid next to her brother in the same incubator. She passed away minutes later. It was like she was holding on to say goodbye to her sweet brother,” Zeigler said. “In the months following, my son had to fight hard to hang on to his life, but thankfully, he survived and is a thriving 10-year-old today.”

Zeigler said ever since, she’s yearned to visit “a place that doesn’t exist,” where she can both remember her lost child and celebrate the one who survived.

“I founded Remember Georgia’s Children Foundation in 2005 because my heart ached for a way to recognize the life of my daughter,” she said. “I also wanted to celebrate the miracle of my surviving son.”

But not just any place would do.

“A cemetery didn’t fit, it was too depressing, and the parks I could find were just empty green spaces without meaning or playgrounds,” she said. “After much research, I came across The Children’s Park in Tyler, Texas. The purpose of the park was to celebrate the lives of all children — those who have passed and those who are living — those with special needs, and those perfectly healthy.”

Zeigler said, “This was the park I was desperately seeking.”

And she was not alone.

A group of about eight local mothers, and many other volunteers, are now on board to make the park a reality.

Sarah Weitzenkorn got involved with the park project a few years ago through Zeigler, she said.

“This park is so very important to me,” she said. “Any mom can tell you that it’s the hardest job you will ever love. You pray for your children, worry about them, cry for them, have so many wishes for them. I have been so incredibly blessed with two healthy children but I also have good friends who have lost their children and many others whose dreams for their children have changed.”

With a target date of mid-2016 for a grand opening, the organization hopes to raise enough money to purchase the land by February, Weitzenkorn said.

“Phase one, which we are in now, is a grassroots fundraising effort to rally the support of the community to pay for the land,” she said. “To date we​ have raised $43,095 toward our $90,000 goal to purchase this land.”

With a total estimated cost of just more than $1 million, Weitzenkorn said the second phase will include finding community and business partners.

“Phase two is to develop partnerships for major gifts from private, public and corporate sectors. The community support garnered in phase one is crucial to show these partners in phase two that this is a place our community desperately needs and wants,” she said.

The proposed plan is for a 4.5-acre park, with the possibility to expand another 6 acres. The land is located on Highway 20, about 2.5 miles west of Interstate 575.

Zeigler said other peoples’ stories, not just her own, fuel her passion to build the park. Since losing a child herself, Zeigler said she continues to come across people who have dealt with similar heartbreak and “have never found a place that felt ‘right or good enough’ to honor their child’s life.”

“There are a lot of hurting folks out there that put on happy faces but inside they long to find peace, acceptance that they are not alone and recognition that their child’s life, no matter how short, was important,” she said, adding the park would also be a place where siblings could go to come to terms with their emotions of grief, or just “do what kids do best, which is play.”

“It is a place children love to visit to play and feel special, a place great for long walks, great talks and quality family time,” Zeigler said.

Weitzenkorn said so many people have been through tough times, and having a park where they could go would be a great way to show support from the community.

“Countless friends have braved illness, special needs, infertility and loss. I was so drawn to being part of a project that is the one place where all these families can meet, be together, support each other and also celebrate our children,” she said. “Although I didn’t know Christy when Alexis passed away, her passion for this project is palpable. She has a dedication and desire for this park and I was thrilled to be a part of it.”

The park plan features an area where children’s names will be engraved on stones that line the sidewalk, places to play, and spaces specifically designed for struggling parents, Zeigler said.

“It is a place children love to visit to play and feel special, a place great for long walks, great talks and quality family time,” Zeigler said. “This thoughtfully designed park will feature special areas for parents who are struggling and feel alone in their own journeys whether it be grieving a lost child, struggling with the challenges of a raising a special needs child or just coping with the challenges of parenting in general.”

Zeigler said the park will be a place that welcomes families in all walks of life, offering a rejuvenating or comforting space for those in need.

“We all go through times when we could really use a beautiful, safe, quiet place to process, be restored and find peace. It’s important to me that our community have a place like this,” she said.

With opportunities to become “founding mothers and fathers” or “founding grandmothers or grandfathers” of the park for a donation of $100 or more, names of donors will be listed on a plaque in the park once it is built.

Larger donations can also be made in memory of specific children or groups of children. Donors have the chance to give $5,000 to dedicate a bench and engraved stone, or $30,000 to dedicate a bronze child statue, among other options.

Zeigler said she will do her absolute best to get the park completed, but she said it’s in God’s hands.

“My confidence is in the Lord. I am giving it my absolute best effort but in the end, it is in God’s hands to touch people’s hearts and lead them to partner with us. I have no doubt he has been with us all the way and I am confident that he is faithful to finish the good work he begins,” she said.

For more information on the park plans, or to donate to the nonprofit organization heading up the project, visit the website at www.childrensparkofgeorgia.com/.

Read more: Cherokee Tribune – Local parents raise funds for children s park