By: Jill Fox
To honor Alyssa Alhadeff, tragically killed in the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, a playground now in the planning stages will be built to celebrate her life.
A few weeks after February 14, Parkland Mayor Christine Hunschofsky suggested that Alyssa’s mother Lori Alhadeff, now a school board member, attend a meeting in Boston for One World Strong, a nonprofit organization that connects survivors of worldwide tragedies together. It was there that she met Bill Labin, with the foundation Where Angels Play.
Labin, a retired New Jersey Fire Captain, started the organization by building playgrounds in honor of the Sandy Hook victims. In a mutually beneficial project, the playgrounds were built along the coasts of New Jersey, New York and Connecticut that had been hard hit by Hurricane Sandy around that same time.
“The idea was to build a playground to celebrate how the children lived rather than how they died. If they liked flamingoes or pirates or teddy bears or butterflies, we would build it in their personality,” said Labin.
Founded in 2013 and led primarily by retired firefighters, Where Angels Play celebrates children around the world and is getting ready to break ground on their 50th playground in just under six years.
After her encounter with Labin, Alhadeff said that she loved the idea, and knew where Alyssa’s park should go.
“They needed a playground for the new Chabad of Parkland synagogue, and it was just a perfect match,” said Alhadeff.
She wanted to involve the Chabad community because they were so loving after Alyssa passed away, and she thought that they would want to be a part of the project because it was so special.
“The way it worked out is what I like to call a divine covenant, a tremendous collaboration of timing, people and places,” said Rabbi Mendy Gutnick, Educational Director at Chabad of Parkland.
Rabbi Gutnick has known Lori and her husband Ilan since they moved from New Jersey in 2014. He said the playground will be utilized in a place where Alyssa learned, played and laughed.
Alyssa’s playground will be designed by her family and will reflect her likes, such as soccer, the beach, and her favorite color: teal. A freshman, Alyssa, 14, was a well-rounded teenager who lived life to the fullest. She loved boys, makeup, doing her hair, and playing soccer. She also did well in school. Having already earned 17 credits towards her high school diploma, she was already planning to take pre-calculus and Spanish IV in her sophomore year. Alyssa liked to hang out with her friends and watch the sun rise and set in Long Beach Island, NJ where she would visit her grandparents each summer.
Alhadeff said that the playground will be a place to honor Alyssa, where other children can remember her and know who she was.
“For people that loved Alyssa to have a place to go and watch kids playing, having fun and living will be amazing,” she said.
Although most of the children using the park will be the Chabad students, Rabbi Gutnick said that they are planning to have open community times when it’s available to the public and everyone can benefit.
“It’s a coming together of the community and the family, and I look forward to Lori and Ilan experiencing how the community wraps their arms around the family in a really positive venture,” said Labin.
Rabbi Gutnick feels that making a park in Alyssa’s memory is a much more vivacious way of seeing that her spirit lives on.
“Unfortunately, these were innocent children that were taken. We can remember them with statues or tearful memorials, but to remember them how they lived is to remember their innocence that comes with the freedom of running, jumping and climbing. That’s the way in which we can truly pay honor to them,” said Rabbi Gutnick.
To donate to Alyssa’s playground, visit Where Angels Play. The Chabad of Parkland is located at 7170 Loxahatchee Road.
Carly Levy contributed to this article.
Jill Fox is an Emmy Award-winning writer and producer. She is currently a Senior Account Director at Lon Haber & Co., a leading full-service public relations firm. Fox worked as the Digital Marketing Manager for NBC Miami, and represented NBC Universal by acting as the Operations Manager for the South Florida Region of GE Women’s Network. A true Floridian, Fox grew up in Ormond Beach, Florida and earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Economics and Advertising from the University of Miami. She lives in Parkland with her husband, Brian and two children.