Matthew 5:4 "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted."
On September 11, 2001 when the twin towers fell Fire Captain Bill Lavin grabbed his gear and rushed to his department headquarters in Elizabeth, New Jersey. He and his fire chief didn't even wait for orders to deploy. They jumped in a truck and headed to New York.
Bill did what first responders do—he ran towards the danger instead of away from it. Bill was part of that great wave of heroes who worked tirelessly for weeks and months. In an excerpt from his book: Where Angels Live Work and Play (The Story of the Sandy Ground Project) He writes "...There was no set schedule or plan, so you just kind of worked until you were exhausted, fell asleep somewhere, then got up and did it all over again." Click here to read more.
A schoolteacher in the small coastal town of Bay St. Louis Mississippi, who had connections to New Jersey, decided to teach her students about patriotism and gratitude. So they built a mailbox and decorated it like a flag. They stuffed it full of messages, drawings, and letters to cheer up the first responders, and they delivered it to the firefighters at the Elizabeth Fire Department.
For several years the mailbox graced the chief's office at the firehouse, reminding the firefighters that someone cares. Then, in August of 2005, Hurricane Katrina demolished Bay St. Louis Mississippi. Bill and his crew had to find out if their friends at North Bay Elementary were okay. They had survived, but their school and much of their town had disappeared.
The firemen and their friends held fundraisers to help. "What do you need right now?" Bill asked the teachers.
"We need a place for our children to play." They replied.
Bill and his dedicated team of volunteers descended upon Bay St. Louis, and by they time they were done, they had built 3 brand-new playgrounds, one at North Bay Elementary, and 2 more in surrounding areas that were also devastated.
For a while they thought they were retired from the playground business, but then a few years later, disaster struck closer to home. In October of 2012 superstorm Sandy ripped apart much of the Atlantic coast. Bill and and his fellow first responders were once again faced with overwhelming and exhausting recovery tasks. Then in December, the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut brought the nation to its knees.
At the time Bill was also embroiled in political and union battles in an effort to preserve the firefighters pensions and benefits. Amidst all of those events Bill had reached an all-time mental and emotional low.
Then a letter from a little girl arrived. It was a letter thanking Bill and his volunteers for the playground that they had built several years earlier in Bay St. Louis. She told them how much she enjoyed growing up playing on it.They were all thinking of their New Jersey friends in the wake of Storm Sandy.
Bill writes "With all the storms and violence and overall despondency hanging over our country, here was a little girl working to pay it forward in a positive way. And it all began with a playground that had allowed her to feel cared for...What if building more playgrounds could help everyone recover and rebuild once again?"
And The Sandy Ground project was born. Click here for more information.
Bill and his expanding team of volunteers went on to build 26 more playgrounds in storm-ravaged towns in New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut The reason they built 26 was because each of the playgrounds was built to honor one of the 20 children and the 6 adults killed at Sandy Hook.
Because of The Where Angels Play Foundation four of the most infamous and catastrophic events in recent American history have all been linked by a project of love and hope. Families of fallen children see siblings and neighbors frolicking on playgrounds uniquely designed to match their child's favorite colors and themes. Communities leveled by storms have rallied together, a new spark of hope ignited when their children received a brand-new place to play.
And the work continues. To date the Where Angels Play Foundation has erected more than 40 playgrounds! There are even plans to build one in Africa!
Revelation 21:1: "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away..."
Although our ultimate restoration won't come until the return of our Lord, Jesus, in the meantime we are blessed with Bill and his earthly angels who spread love and build hope one playground at a time.