WESTPORT, Conn. – Dozens of volunteers braved the rain Friday morning to break ground on construction of a new playground at Westport Long Lots School dedicated to 6-year-old Dylan Hockley, one of the 26 victims of December’s shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown.
Members of the Hockley family, including Dylan’s older brother Jake and their parents Ian and Nicole, attended the ceremony. As the project’s honorary foreman, 8-year-old Jake, wearing a toolbelt, planted the first shovel into the ground and playfully shouted, “Get to work!”
With the orders, the group of more than 50 volunteers—which included Westport firefighters, police officers, EMS and several firefighters from New Jersey—quickly got started.
With guidance from a professional, Jake even helped to drill a hole into the ground using heavy machinery.
The construction of a playground in Dylan’s honor is a very fitting tribute, Ian Hockley told those gathered.
“Dylan loved playgrounds,” he said. “We would go out as a family in the summer around Newtown, have lunch and then find a playground. He'd love going to the top of the slide, and he’d laugh, slide down, and then the boys would play and run around. It was so central to our family to go out and have fun as a family.
“That’s what playgrounds do for communities. They're places different families come together and meet new people and new friends,” Ian continued. “The sense of community, the sense of bringing people back together and reconnecting, it’s an absolutely wonderful thing. Some good is coming out of this tragedy.”
The playground is being built at no cost to the town through The Sandy Ground: Where Angels Play project, which was created by the New Jersey State Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association. As part of the project, a total of 26 playgrounds will be built in Hurricane Sandy-affected communities in New Jersey, Connecticut and New York. Each playground will be built in memory of a Sandy Hook victim.
The Long Lots playground, the fourth to be constructed, will celebrate Dylan’s life by reflecting his personality, said William Lavin, president of the firefighters benevolent association.
As the playground is being funded through donations made to the Sandy Ground project, the Westport community is encouraged to pay it forward by helping fund the cost of the remaining playgrounds. Residents can make donations directly on the Sandy Ground project website.
During the ceremony, members of the Long Lots PTA presented a check for $11,500 to Lavin for the Sandy Ground project. The money was raised during the PTA’s “Butterfly Effect” fundraiser in which t-shirts and other items were sold. A second check for $1,000 was presented to the Hockleys for the Dylan’s Wings of Change fund, which provides support for children with autism and other special needs.
Due to heavy rainfall Friday afternoon, volunteers had to stop construction, Westport Deputy Fire Chief Robert Kepchar said. Work will continue Saturday morning.
A dedication ceremony will be held sometime next week, Kepchar said.