Standing before the red, white and blue playground built in his daughter's memory, John Green paused, looked over to his wife and son and then looked up at the mountains.
The Christina-Taylor Green Little Hands Playground replaces the 35-year-old metal play area that had been at Mesa Verde Elementary School since it opened. Updating the old equipment had long been a dream of school leaders, and it had also been on the radar of Christina-Taylor herself. The third-grader had been elected to her student council shortly before she was killed by a gunman who opened fire Jan. 8 at a meet-and-greet with U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
Giffords' district director Ron Barber said the congresswoman would have been thrilled to meet Christina-Taylor that morning. The little girl was close to the front of the line when the gunfire began, and she never got the chance to shake Giffords' hand. She'd been hoping to talk to Giffords about a career in politics.
Barber noted that Saturday's playground opening took place at about the same time of day as the shooting that cut short Christina-Taylor's life. Barber, who was also shot Jan. 8, said he still finds Saturday mornings difficult. But he said the playground shows "the true face of our community," symbolizing the way Tucson came together after the shooting.
Projects like the playground will ensure Christina-Taylor is not remembered solely as the little girl killed Jan. 8, her father said. Rather, he hopes she will be remembered for what she stood for - caring for others less fortunate, following your passions and getting involved with government.
A longtime member of the local charitable organization Kids Helping Kids, she'd frequently told her parents she felt her own life was blessed and that she wanted to help others less fortunate than herself.
The playground is a project of the Christina-Taylor Green Memorial Foundation, which Christina-Taylor's mother, Roxanna Green, established with the hope of both honoring her daughter and reflecting the girl's values. The foundation helps schools and kids with unmet needs, including school supplies, musical instruments and playground equipment.
Financing for the Mesa Verde playground came from a $140,000 gift from The Allstate Foundation, plus donations from the Little Tikes Corporation, the Sundt Foundation and the JohnJay and Rich Care For Kids Foundation. The Injury Free Coalition for Kids at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health also partnered on building the project by, among other things, getting design ideas for the nearly 2,000-square-foot play area from Christina-Taylor's classmates.
Mesa Verde student Autumn Yokley sang the national anthem before the Green family, surrounded by their daughter's classmates, cut the ribbon to officially open the new playground.
"We're very proud our daughter was able to inspire people to work together and care for one another," John Green told the crowd Saturday. "It helps us to know Christina will not be forgotten."
Barber commended the Greens for their grace and generosity during a time of deep grief.
"It's no wonder they gave us a child like Christina," he said.
More information about the Christina-Taylor Green Memorial Foundation: www.christina-taylorgreen.org