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Alabama city unites to honor child killed in accident

March 4, 2018

AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — Sadie Grace Andrews, like many children, loved to swing. Especially at the playground in her Grove Hill neighborhood in Auburn, Alabama.

Now many Sadie routinely greeted with cheer have banded together to enrich the Grove Hill playground. A pavilion is in the works, with more attractions expected, to provide a comfortable place where families can gather in fellowship.

A memorial fund devoted to the 3-year-old girl, who died last October after falling into a picnic-area grease trap at an Auburn ice cream shop, will help support the project. The process has comforted and helped strengthen the secure sense of hope embraced by the Andrews family.

“The feeling of overwhelming support is seriously as if they’re being like Aaron in the Bible, who helped Moses raise his arms,” said Sadie’s mother, Corrie Andrews, her eyes filling with tears as she referred to the story of how Aaron helped a tired Moses keep his hands lifted for the sake of the Israelites. “So those moms are being like Aaron, holding my arms up. We can’t do this alone.”

The idea for the pavilion began, initially, with a bench.

Grove Hill resident Jackie Waters - a mother, grandmother and teacher at Parkway Baptist Preschool - questioned what she and the neighborhood could possibly do upon hearing the news on Oct. 14, 2017.

“It’s just gut-wrenching,” Waters said. “And the only thing you can do is pray and do anything that you think you can do to help them.”

Waters said she was compelled by her Christian beliefs and compassion for children and families to take action. She posted a message on the neighborhood’s Facebook page asking if anyone would like to get a little money together through a memorial and put a bench at the playground in Sadie’s honor.

“A lot of the people in the neighborhood started saying, ‘Yes, Jackie, if you’ll do that, I think people would respond.’ And so we just decided to go get a GoFundMe page and just put it up. Basically, I said on the GoFundMe page, ‘We’re going to try to do a little bench. Our goal is $300.’ Well, we blew through that in the first hour.”

Donations of $10, $20 and $25 began emerging, Jackie said, with approximately $500 brought in that first day, courtesy of moms in the community. By the time she reached out to the Andrews — whom she’d never met — after Sadie’s funeral, more than $1,000 was raised.

Following discussions and much prayer, the idea for a memorial bench soon expanded into a vision involving an 18-by-36-foot pavilion featuring a concrete slab to counter mud, multiple tables, rubber mulch and shade material for playground equipment to keep the heat from burning little legs. And, of course, more fun attractions — monkey bars and extra swings — for those Sadie’s age and older.

It is also hoped that yellow maple trees will someday line the area, a symbolic tribute to Sadie’s favorite color.

“We just started dreaming big,” Andrews said. “Because we serve a big God, and it’s just been incredible to see how many people have come around us, just asking whatever they can do and supporting us.”

About $3,000 has been raised, a result of kind hearts from the local community and beyond, Waters said. A Grove Hill bake sale on Oct. 22, during which the Andrews children designed, colored and sold little pillows, contributed $1,006.

Waters recalled a moment last fall when she was discussing the matter with a representative of Home Depot and a man she’d never met handed her $100 from his wallet, saying “This is in honor of my grandchildren.”

Multiple businesses — Russell Building Supply, Builders FirstSource, University Ace Hardware, Lowe’s, Home Depot and PlayTime Playground Equipment — are generously donating supplies as well, Waters said. A Grove Hill neighbor is helping manage construction, and another neighbor’s relative from Knoxville, Tennessee, completed an architectural drawing of the project.

Serve Team members from the Church of the Highlands helped install 10 donated posts for the pavilion Saturday, and church members plan to meet in the future to build the structure.

“It’s been great for me — obviously that other people are still thinking about us and thinking about Sadie and want to just share with us in leaving some things in Sadie’s memory and honor here,” said Sadie’s father, Tracy Andrews, who helped install the posts on Saturday. “Not just for that, but it’s also for something that people in the neighborhood and the community can use.”

Other plans for the project will be pursued as opportunities arise through volunteers and donations. In the meantime, neighbors who are supporting the project are looking forward to its completion.

Ann Garner is familiar with what it is like to face what she calls “the worst hell that a parent could ever imagine” as her 26-year-old son, Rob, died in 2007. Reaching out to other parents who have lost children has helped her cope, and Garner is hopeful her actions and others’ actions bring comfort to the Andrews.

“There’s something about having a parent who has lost reaching out and saying, ‘I don’t know exactly how you feel, and our children’s deaths were very different, but I know the pain of burying a child,’” Garner, who also has two adults daughters, said while discussing the tragedies she and the Andrews are enduring.

Garner, whose nephew voluntarily provided the architectural drawing for the playground project, said her grandchildren love going to the playground.

“So when I heard that that’s what they’re going to do in Sadie’s memory, I desperately wanted to be involved,” she said.

Amanda Jones, a mother of four who met Andrews when Sadie was about 9 months old, shared about how her 2½-year-old daughter, Amy, and Sadie used to ride in strollers together, holding hands and singing together as best friends as they headed to playtime at the playground.

“To be able to watch Tracy and Corrie not just handle this tragedy that they’re dealing with, but to also to make it about others,” Jones said, “to show love to others and show others what blessings can come of this has been such an inspiration and such an encouragement. So for us to be able to go to a playground that they are using to honor Sadie, and in Sadie’s memory, is incredible.”

Appreciative of the support their family has received, Andrews said their faith has been “catapulted.”

“Especially now, I have never had such a sense of urgency to share the hope that we have in Jesus Christ,” she added. “Because there is no way we could cope with something like this without knowing and having a relationship with the Lord.”

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