There is a park across the street from the house where Vivienne Claire Burgess lived. Boyd Park and its playground, complete with a slide and swings.
She played there, a lot, with joy. But her parents could hardly look at it after Vivienne died unexpectedly, apparently without cause, just days after her third birthday.
"You look at this playground every day. Both our bedroom and Vivie's bedroom face that park," her mother, Julia Burgess, said. "There was only sadness looking at this."
Then, an idea formed — thanks to conversations with another mom who'd lost a daughter to sudden unexplained death in childhood (SUDC) and neighbors who want to bring better energy to a park that's known crime and sadness in the shadow of the Cathedral of St. Paul. Julia and Wade Burgess would build a new playground in memory of Vivienne.
They enlisted the creative help of children at two Montessori schools and tapped the expertise of Play By Design, New York playground designers. On Tuesday, they kicked off the project by unveiling initial designs and launching fundraising, community engagement and volunteer recruitment. They hope to raise $200,000 to $250,000 over the next year and begin construction in fall 2018.
Tuesday evening, as dozens of face-painted children raced around the current playground, parents lined up at the Virginia Street Church across Selby to sign up as volunteers, donate money and catch a glimpse at a new, kid-centered and Vivie-inspired playground many hope is to come.
The playground is the first project of Vivienne's Joy Foundation, a nonprofit formed in March to raise awareness of SUDC and comfort other bereaved parents. It's hoped that the playground will be a conduit of joy, especially for students at nearby Cathedral Hill Montessori and MacDonald Montessori, which Vivienne attended with her older sister Elianna.
St. Paul Parks and Recreation officials support the project, which may be the largest ever undertaken by a community member in one of the city's public parks, said spokeswoman Clare Cloyd.
"While we include the community in all of our play area design processes, this is definitely a unique instance in which a community member is leading that charge," she said.
The Burgesses hope it transforms what has been a source of pain into new opportunities for neighborhood glee.
"That's Vivie's legacy, doing something joyful and meaningful," Burgess said. "We are excited to have something beautiful as a tangible memorial to her."