Angel Swing: Eighth grader honors young lives lost
Ballard Park is home to a number of benches commemorating loved ones who have died. Grace Matz, an eighth grader at East Ridge Middle School, noticed that there weren’t any memorials for Ridgefield children.
“A lot of the benches in town are for adults and grandparents,” she said.
“There isn’t anything for all the kids that have passed away in Ridgefield, so I thought that a swing for all of them would be nice.”
In seventh grade, Grace was assigned to be the buddy of classmate Justin Cowen.
She brought him his homework and helped him stay up to date with his classes while he battled osteosarcoma, an aggressive cancer in his bones — a fight that eventually took his life.
Grace wanted her social studies service project to honor him and the rest of the children who have passed on, so she set out to fund raise for what she’s calling the Angel Swing — a frame bench swing from Walpole Outdoors.
She’s already raised $3,635 of her $5,000 goal on GoFundMe. After purchasing and installing the swing, all the money left over will be donated to the Jaison P. Schaible fund — an organization started by the Schaibles of Clinton, N.J. — Grace’s former home — in honor of their son, Jason, who died from cancer.
Grace’s friend, Marina Harris, a Ridgefield High School graduate who’s currently at UConn, has been helping her with contact information for families who have lost a child.
“I have completely adjusted my lifestyle. I am who I am because of all of these people that have died, and I wasn’t necessarily close to them,” said Harris.
“From the tragedies, I have learned to take in how precious life is, to be nice, and to be more grateful.”
The Ridgefield ‘bubble’
Harris remembers several young deaths caused by drugs or drunk driving.
“I think that any person in Ridgefield — you sort of take your life for granted when you live in such an affluent area. We’re all very privileged to live in this town everyone calls a bubble,” she said.
“My first memory of someone passing was a girl who died while drunk driving and I just remember being like we can’t all act like we’re invincible. This can happen to absolutely anybody…
“Even if you live in the safest town in the country that doesn’t mean that bad things can’t happen to absolutely everyone that lives here.”
Grace’s first step was to get approval from the town.
“They’re very happy about it and supportive, they’ve helped a lot,” Grace said.
“I’ve talked to multiple people from the town and I’ve emailed families to ask permission to have the child’s name and we’re still emailing more.”
Paul Roche, the Director of Parks and Recreation, said that they worked with the town’s insurance provider, along with Grace and her mom Brandi Matz, to ensure that their final idea was approved and ready to go.
“The idea has evolved a lot,” said Grace.
“It was originally just a wooden swing painted with the kids’ names on it that we were going to do all around Ridgefield, but the town helped us and said that would be safety hazard...
“So they said maybe a frame swing — it’s a frame bench swing, but it’s pretty big. There’s going to be a plaque with a nice message.”
The swing will have a small garden around it with stepping stones with all the children’s names on them.
“The plaque on the swing is going to be a general tribute to the young lives lost — if we put names on it now we won’t be able to add to it,” said her mom Brandi Matz.
Grace wants to get in touch with as many families as possible, and encourages anyone who would like their relative to be included to reach out.
“I feel happy to know that it’s going to commemorate all these kids and I feel like there isn’t really anything,” she said.
“As sad as it is, a lot of kids have passed away and now that I’ve gotten in this it can be depressing — I didn’t know about a lot of them, but it will be nice to have something in the town.”
Harris echoed that sentiment, saying that Ridgefield will benefit from a centralized memorial honoring all those young lives that have been lost.
“This is really the first big thing to commemorate all of these people,” Harris said.
“The town always comes together when these things happen, but now we’ll have a tangible symbol of the town coming together.”
For Harris, the swing is also a way to remember to appreciate life and be grateful.
“People just need to remember that we do always get through it,” she said, “and you have to live in honor of these people that pass away and take from their death whatever you can, but actually remember it — not just for the week or the month or the times that it’s really hard.”
Any families that would like to have their child’s name honored in the swing’s garden can reach out to Brandi Matz via email: firstname.lastname@example.org