COVINGTON - What family and friends of Mary Beth Malcom want more than anything is for the pretty little red-headed girl they loved to be remembered.
The Covington Family YMCA is trying to make sure they get their wish by building a playground in honor of Mary Beth, who died unexpectedly at age 5 in 2006, at its new outdoor center off Stone Road.
Thursday afternoon, about 20 children gathered to put their creative minds to work and help design "Mary Beth's Place."
The children's ideas will be incorporated into the final design of the playground by KaBOOM!, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to have a great place to play within walking distance of every child in the country.
KaBOOM! brings together businesses and communities to partner together to build playgrounds. In the case of Mary Beth's Place, Home Depot and the YMCA are community partners.
At Thursday's pink-themed design meeting, held at the YMCA clubhouse on Newton Drive, children wore pink ribbons and pictures of Mary Beth on their shirts while they drew and colored.
KaBOOM! Associate Project Manager Natalie Proffit instructed the children to "close your eyes and imagine the best playground you've ever seen."
At the end of the design session, each child showed his or her vision for the playground.
The most common elements included a swing set, tunnel slide, tree house, sandbox and trampolines.
KaBOOM! will use the drawings as a springboard for ideas during the design process. Three alternate designs will be submitted for the YMCA and Mary Beth's friends and family to consider.
Once a design is selected, the playground will be built June 5 with the help of 200 volunteers from Home Depot and the community, Proffit said.
Proffit emphasized the importance of keeping the playground safe and clean, asking the children how to do that.
Some suggestions were, "not to put gum on it," and, "set an example for younger kids."
Jon and Sally Krieger brought their two sons, Ian, 7, and Anderson, 5, to the meeting. The boys still talk about their friend Mary Beth all the time, Jon Krieger said.
"It's a good way to remember Mary and also to heal, because it's a long process, the healing process. It's a way to show how much we love and care for the Malcoms and how much we miss her," Krieger said.
Scheree and Tim Howard also brought their four children. Their son, Carson, 7, was close friends with Mary Beth, and still mentions her often, Scheree Howard said.
Carson will be pleased to know he had a part in designing the playground, which is the perfect way to honor Mary Beth, she said.
"She loved to laugh and play and giggle," Howard said.
The playground will be the heart of the YMCA's new outdoor center that will be situated on 28 acres on Stone Road. In addition to providing extra space for the organization's sports programs, the center will be open to the general public for recreation.
The master plan calls for four fields, which will mainly be used for soccer, but could also be used for youth lacrosse and T-ball and some adult sports, according to YMCA Senior Program Director Louly Hay-Kapp.
The site will also include an airnasium, which is an open-air basketball court, a playground and eventually, tennis courts may be added. A 3/4-mile walking trail bordering the property will connect to Newton County's multi-use trail system, Hay-Kapp said.
The YMCA will also use the outdoor center for summer day camp activities.
In addition to Mary Beth's Place, a soccer field will be dedicated to Chase Cain, an Eastside High School student who was killed in an automobile accident in 2004. Cain was a staff member with the YMCA's afterschool program.
The YMCA is continuing efforts to raise money for the center, which will cost an estimated $3 million.
Anyone who would like to make a donation can contact Hay-Kapp at 770-787-3908 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Crystal Tatum can be reached at email@example.com.