On June 3, dozens of families, friends, local dignitaries and representatives from Gift of Hope crowded the Louis Sherman Community
Center in Steger, Ill., for the formal dedication of the Lorenzo Garcia Park of Hope.
“Heroes in Our Midst” was the theme of the day as superhero balloons, signs and collectibles decorated the entrance to the park and the center’s gymnasium, where a formal presentation took place. Two little boys dressed as superheroes paraded through the gym to applause.
The park itself was dedicated to the memory of 12-year-old Lorenzo Garcia who, like many boys his age, idolized superheroes. Ironman was his favorite. And like Ironman’s creator, Tony Stark, the kindhearted sixth-grader from Steger hoped to use his very own super powers to one day help others.
Tragically, Lorenzo’s life was cut short following an accident in July 2015, but his dreams of becoming a superhero came true when his family made the courageous decision to donate his organs.
AN IDEA TAKES ROOT
The dedication ceremony began with the national anthem, sung by 10-year-old Jeirmyri Liddell, who came up with the idea of a lasting memorial to honor his fallen friend shortly after his accident in 2015. “Can we do something so that we never, ever forget Lorenzo?” Liddell asked his mother, Mary Supramaniam-Liddell, a week after Lorenzo’s passing. “That’s when the vision of this memorial was born,” she explained.
The original idea included a memorial tree and bench, but it quickly grew in scope and size as the community rallied behind the construction of a quiet sanctuary to honor deceased loved ones, and create a place for anyone to reflect on the lives of those they have lost. “This is a project that’s been close to our hearts from the beginning,” explained Susan Koelling, who welcomed the crowd to the park’s dedication. Koelling, Kenneth McAllister and Supramaniam-Liddell headed the nonprofit
Park of Hope organization that helped raise funds for the project.
“Lorenzo had a heart of gold and a spirit greater than the superheroes he loved,” Koelling said. “And just like the gifts Lorenzo shared, many gifts helped make this day
Donations poured in through a variety of fundraising initiatives, including a sold-out spaghetti dinner in early 2017. Dozens of friends and community members also purchased commemorative bricks, plaques, shrubs, and trees to decorate the park. In all, nearly $30,000 was raised to create a permanent memorial
that surpassed the expectations of everyone, including Lorenzo’s mom, Karla.
“It’s like a dream come true,” she said. “Park of Hope gives us exactly that — hope. Hope that we will find peace when we come here to remember our loved ones and hope that we have the strength to live every day to the fullest.”
Steger Mayor Kenneth Peterson echoed her sentiments. “I really appreciated being able to be part of this journey,” he told the crowd. “I knew it was a project the village had to get behind and support.”
ALL ABOUT HOPE
“How could the village say no,” Supramaniam-Liddell said afterwards. “This project is all about the gift of hope. Lorenzo’s family lost so much, but through his gifts that helped save the lives of others, he has given hope for generations to come.”
Grown with faith, love and courage, the beautifully manicured Park of Hope features a brick retaining wall with commemorative bricks, marble benches, a variety of trees, shrubs and flowering plants, and a book box to donate to or borrow from.
Gift of Hope President/CEO Kevin Cmunt told the crowd, “It’s inspiring to see people of all different backgrounds come together to create something awesome. Lorenzo’s story ended way too soon. At Gift of Hope, we help write another chapter. But looking out today, I can see that Lorenzo’s writing his very own sequel.”