Dinosaurs, laughter and play keep a boy’s memory alive

28 Aug


The memory of young Jack James Heiligman is alive and well, embodied in the smiles and laughter of children at our area’s newest playground, Jack’s Place.

Jack’s Place is a a blue, dinosaur-themed playground at Penfield’s Rothfuss Park on Five Mile Line Road. It was built by a terrific organization called the Jack Foundation, in honor of 3-year old Jack Heiligman, who lost his life tragically last October.

Hundreds of people attended the official opening ceremonies Sunday afternoon, where Jack’s mother Anne spoke emotionally about her son and how the playground has helped fulfill the dream she and her husband AJ had to keep Jack’s memory alive.

She said,

We knew we could never forget Jack, but we didn’t want anyone to forget him. With that in  mind, we started the Jack Foundation the weeks after he passed and were overwhelmed by the generosity of spirit and resources. We encouraged acts of caring and kindness in Jack’s memory and the caring people jumped in and helped. 

People would ask them how they were able to continue after such a devastating loss, to which she responded with a quote from Fred Rogers:

When disaster strikes, look for the helpers. You will always find caring people in this world who are ready to jump in to help when things go wrong. 

When the idea came to them to build a playground to honor their son, the support doubled-down. Friends, neighbors, family members and local businesses donated their time, effort and services to help make it a reality. Individuals, local companies, whole families, even children, all started raising money for the project, collecting more than $175,000 in just ten months.

The result of that outpouring of love and effort is a beautiful new play facility which incorporates all of the things that Jack loved most: dinosaurs, climbing and sliding, and the color blue. There’s even a Little Free Library, because Jack also loved books.

There are slides, of course — six of them by my count; spinny, merry-go-round thing that’s quite a bit updated from my day; a bouncy thing; a sand box where kids can “dig” for dinosaur bones; and lots and lots of places where kids can climb and crawl. There are also eight benches, where parents and grandparents can relax.

As I watched countless kids (young and old; I saw a few adults taking to the slides as well) clambering around the playscape, I could imagine Jack playing, smiling and laughing right along with them. I know that Anne and AJ imagined that as well, and I hope the thought gave them some comfort.

Here are some photos from the opening:

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