Brant Beach playground

The site of a new playground in Brant Beach that will honor one of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School killings.

Tragic events of 2012 are being remembered in a way that will bring joy to children, thanks to an organization building playgrounds in honor of the 26 victims of the Newtown, Conn., shooting in towns affected by Hurricane Sandy.

The 21st playground will be dedicated next month in Brant Beach, Long Beach Township, where police Officer Brendan Kerlin worked with Where Angels Play Foundation founder Bill Lavin to revitalize an area damaged by Sandy.

Kerlin, of Stafford Township, heard Lavin speak about the foundation at a Policemen’s Benevolent Association state delegation meeting, where Lavin — a firefighter in Elizabeth, Union County — spoke about the mission he will take up full time upon his retirement.

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Lavin’s Fireman’s Benevolent Association chapter built playgrounds in Mississippi following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

“A third-grade student in Mississippi had an idea to pay it forward and helped donate Christmas gifts to New Jersey children after Sandy,” Lavin said. “We had an idea for a pay it forward program that would rebuild playgrounds in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut affected by Sandy in honor of the people killed at Sandy Hook (Elementary).”

The Brant Beach playground will be in honor of school teacher Lauren Rousseau, one of six adults killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Lavin said.

“It was chosen in combination with her mother and father, because Lauren loved the beach and the water,” Lavin said. “And we wanted to combine that with an area hard-hit by Sandy. I understand there used to be a playground there. ... It was a good fit.”

The groundbreaking for the playground is scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday, May 9, Kerlin said.

“The plan is to build it all in one day,” Kerlin said. “(Volunteers) will put the finishing touches on it Saturday, and Sunday is the ribbon-cutting.”

Rousseau’s father will stay in a camper at the playground site, Kerlin said, and her mother will stay in a house donated for the weekend by its owners.

“May these playgrounds provide a symbol of hope, recovery and a return to normalcy, a gift to our youth in an effort to enhance and sustain their precious childhood,” the group said in a statement.

Contact Steven Lemongello:


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More than 30 years’ experience reporting and editing for newspapers and magazines in Illinois, Colorado, Texas and New Jersey and 1985 winner of the Texas Daily Newspaper Association’s John Murphy Award for copy editing.

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