Playground celebrates life of Sandy Hook shooting victim

Aaron Evangelista, 7, of Woodstock, Connecticut, plays on Aaron Evangelista, 7, of Woodstock, Connecticut, plays on the bars during the dedication of Maddie's playground at the United Methodist Church of Woodbury on Sunday, July 6, 2014. Photo Credit: Steve Pfost

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A dedication ceremony Sunday for the new playground at the United Methodist Church of Woodbury not only honored Sandy Hook shooting victim Madeleine "Maddie" Feng Hsu but also marked what would have been her 8th birthday.

The outside of the church was decorated with balloons and streamers in purple and pink, Maddie's favorite colors, in honor of her birthday this week.

"This is more of a birthday celebration for the family and community," said Matt McGough, a former Woodbury resident and Maddie's cousin. "That's what we wanted. We wanted to focus on the beauty of what she loved."

After a service at the church, between 30 and 40 people gathered in front of the newly restored playground and garden with fresh violas and daisies.

Family and friends spoke before McGough and other family members cut two purple ribbons tied in front of the playground and garden. They also unveiled a sign bearing the name "Maddie's playground" above the phrase "Peace, love and happiness to all."

Maddie was one of 20 children who died with six adults when a gunman opened fire in Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, on Dec. 14, 2012.

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This is the second playground on Long Island honoring Maddie, McGough said. The first was completed in West Islip last month as part of the Sandy Ground project, a nonprofit that builds parks honoring Sandy Hook victims in areas affected by superstorm Sandy.

"She's the only kid that has two playgrounds," McGough said. "It's an accomplishment we're very proud of."

McGough put the event together after contacting Nassau Legis. Judy Jacobs (D-Woodbury) and asking if she would help build a playground in Woodbury, where several of Maddie's relatives live.

"The story touched my heart and soul," Jacobs said.

Maddie's relatives are members of the church, and Maddie often played in the park when visiting her family in Woodbury.

McGough has been working on this project since December and has received donations from organizations such as Meyer's Farms in Woodbury, Hicks Nurseries in Westbury, Dodds & Eder landscape designers in Oyster Bay, Otto Keil Florist in Huntington and the Make-A-Wish Foundation. The Newtown Forest Association also dedicated two trees, including a Christmas tree as requested by McGough.

In addition, the Sandy Hook Promise Foundation Community Fund and the Sandy Hook Special Revenue Fund provided some funding for the project.

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