MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A St. Paul couple is overcoming the death of their daughter with a plan to help the entire community.

Tony and Sarah Zahradka are building a memorial playground for their daughter, Janie, who died from sudden childhood death in October 2013 when she was 18-months-old.

The Zahradkas are ready to start building, but they still need the public’s help. For Tony and Sarah Zahradka, hope comes from great despair.

“We’ve come a long way,” Sarah said. “It’s hard. It’ll always leave a hole in our hearts.”

Casey Lake Park was once a favorite spot for their energetic toddler. In her death, the Zahradkas acted on a need for change. They want to update the current playground which they believe is outdated and unsafe for young children.

Many steps are covered with rust and openings on the play set pose a falling hazard. For six months, the couple has raised money and dreamed up a play space in Janie’s honor.

“She loved to have a lot of fun, and the new playground looks like it’s going to be a blast for children,” Tony said.

Sarah says they wanted the playground to be nature-inspired, fun and whimsical. City approval to update Casey Lake Park moved quickly, according to Terry Furlong, a North St. Paul Parks and Recreation Board member.

“It’s something that it’s a good feeling. It’s a good feeling for the whole city,” Furlong said.

Now, weeks before the groundbreaking, Tony and Sarah still need support.

“What we need help with is time. We need help with skilled labor, carpentry and brick-laying skills,” Sarah said.

Janie’s playground will truly be a community play area that’s built with the sweat and tears of those who know the family, and those touched by their story.

“We’re turning it into an opportunity to remember Janie, remember her life and making the community better,” said John Dao, a neighbor and volunteer.

As they honor their first child, Sarah and Tony can’t help but think who will use Janie’s playground in the future

“Tony and I are expecting a baby due in July, a little boy, so it’ll be Janie’s little brother,” Sarah said.

The Zahradkas are also looking for volunteers to supply meals and other supplies during the build, which will run from June 23 – 28.

Visit the “Janie’s Memorial” Facebook page to help.


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