If We Build It, They Can Play
Dream Big. That’s what Shaina and Adi Rappoport have done since their son, Jacob, died of Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) in October of 2002 at the age of nine months. In the last 9 years, they have raised close to one million dollars to find a cure for SMA. We’re so proud to share how they’ve turned their family’s heartbreak into hope for the future.
If We Build It, They Can Play
Last August, a community of friends, family and neighbors gathered to build Jacob’s Park – a playground where disabled and able-bodied kids could play alongside one another. The inspiration for this park was my son Jacob, who died in 2001 at the age of nine months, from Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), a genetic, neuromuscular disorder.
After Jacob died, we were determined to keep his memory alive. We organized The Jacob Isaac Rappoport Foundation, and plan an annual fundraiser to find a cure. To date, the Foundation has raised over $900,000. In addition, we wanted to make a difference in the lives of children fighting SMA (or other challenges).
For the sake of our then three-year-old daughter Jordan, we referred to the cemetery where Jacob was buried as “Jacob’s Park.” We’d visit, sit on a bench, and watch as Jordan picked flowers. Now, nine years later, we still call the cemetery “Jacob’s Park” when we bring Jordan and our two living sons, Max and Sam. During one of our visits, we started talking about the name “Jacob’s Park.” We discussed how a park – a theme park, a ball park, any park – is always a happy place. And so the idea of creating an accessible playground called “Jacob’s Park” was born. Had Jacob survived, he would have had severe physical limitations. We would have wanted him to be able to play alongside his siblings. This park became our mission and inspiration.
The challenges of building Jacob’s Park were significant. Where would it be? Which company would supply the equipment? How would we raise the funds needed to build it? It took almost seven years for our idea to become a reality. Little by little, with the help of many generous donors and volunteers, we did the seemingly impossible: we build Jacob’s Park.
Jacob’s story has shown us repeatedly the power of generosity from not only friends and family, but total strangers. One amazing example was the owner of the playground equipment company. His best friend’s daughter lost her battle with SMA, and when he heard about our project he pledged to make our playground spectacular. He did not disappoint. Jacob’s Park, located at the Ross JCC in Boynton Beach, Florida, is beyond what we imagined. We chose a space theme because we compare Jacob to a shooting star. It is adorned with rockets, stars and replicas of the artwork that hung in his bedroom.
So whatever your inspiration, it pays to dream big. We know that nothing can bring Jacob back, yet it is comforting to know how many lives he has touched. From the volunteer who poured his sweat and heart into installing a slide on community build day, to the donor who sponsored a shade structure, to the two children who race up a ramp alongside one another- one on foot, and one in a wheelchair– they have each become a part of Jacob’s legacy. And while the playground is a gift to each child (young and old) who steps foot on it, it has been a gift for us to see Jacob’s spirit live on.
For more information about Jacob, visit www.ourshootingstar.com
For more information about SMA, visit www.curesma.org
~By Shaina Rappoport