By Carol Vaughn —
Brianna’s Kindness Park on Chincoteague was dedicated in a ceremony held, fittingly, on World Kindness Day, Saturday, Nov. 13.
The park memorializes Brianna Merritt, who died in 2019 at age 11 after a three-year battle with leukemia.
Brianna towards the end of her life expressed the wish that everyone should do some act of kindness each day.
The happy sound of children playing on the new playground at the corner of Smith and School streets provided a backdrop to the ceremony, which included musical performances by Amy Stewart and Brandon Elliot, a prayer by Pastor Kevin Stanley, of the Church by the Beach, and comments by Mayor Arthur Leonard, Councilwoman Denise Bowden, Donna Leonard, and others.
“Brianna was something special,” said Mayor Leonard, recalling the concern she expressed about “the other kids” during a fundraiser being held for her.
“So, this is for ‘the other kids,’” he said of the park.
“This park is just something special,” Leonard said, recalling the property formerly was where the town’s children played and where Little League teams practiced.
“When they brought the idea of Brianna’s Kindness Park to us, you know, that’s a big project,” he said, adding, “Luckily for us, we had people in the town that we were able to tap to handle that.”
He cited Town Manager Mike Tolbert and Public Works Director Harvey Spurlock as being among those people.
He also thanked Team Brianna, the group that helped raise money for the playground.
Arthur Wilder, Mayor Leonard’s young grandson, presented to the town money he raised for the park this summer with his lemonade stand. His younger sister, Martha Wilder, told the crowd a joke.
Additionally, the Colt cheer squad performed a cheer on the new playground and led the crowd in reciting a Kindness Pledge.
Cindy Faith was mistress of ceremonies. She showed the crowd a mockup of banners that will be on display at the park listing “Brianna’s Kindness Playground Rules,” including items such as “Be Kind,” “Share,” and “Have Good Manners,” among others.
The Leonard family some years ago purchased the former Chincoteague school property, on part of which the new park sits.
The former cafeteria building near by is now home to the Chincoteague Cultural Alliance.
Resident David Landsberger purchased the property from the Leonards and donated it to the town on condition it be made into a park.
He also donated money towards the cost of playground equipment and construction of the pavilion.
Donna Leonard spoke about comments Cindy Macklin made at a Town Council meeting, in which Macklin said she would like to see the town do something in recognition of Brianna Merritt and Brianna’s wish for people to be kind.
Leonard said Macklin’s impassioned speech sparked the idea to name the new playground after Brianna.
Leonard and Faith got together and helped start Team Brianna in an effort to raise funds for the park.
“Young or old, big or small, we can all make a difference. It’s all a matter of choice,” Leonard said.
Residents of Chincoteague and beyond made donations and held fundraisers for the park, which the Town Council approved naming Brianna’s Kindness Park. Additionally, the Town Council approved using funds from the town’s playground equipment fund and the beach replenishment, recreation, and tourism fund to complete the project.
The town’s public works employees did the work to construct the playground and other park amenities.
The park includes a sensory playground and an athletic field, with restrooms currently under construction and plans for a pavilion, outdoor chess tables, and more.
A sensory playground is one with equipment that stimulates the different senses. The park on Chincoteague includes several music-oriented pieces of equipment.
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