Rachel Crossett was just 6 when she succumbed to cancer in July 2001, but she lives on in the hearts and minds of all who knew and loved her.
She's also being remembered in a more tangible way in the form of a local park that will bear her name. It's in Centreville's Pleasant Hill community where she lived, on the corner of Hidden Canyon Road and Riverland Run.
It belongs to Fairfax County and is known as Pleasant Hill Park, but its playground equipment was removed, some eight years ago, and never replaced. And over the years, it's fallen into disrepair. However, Crossett family friend Sally Spaulding is spearheading its renovation and, when completed, it'll be called Rachel's Park.
All that's there now are a couple picnic tables, part of a tube slide and a frame where swings used to be. But Spaulding envisions the park bursting with happy children playing on all-new equipment. "With people's help, we can again make this a beautiful and fun place to play," she said.
She hopes to refurbish it with things such as double and single slides, twisty and canopy-top slides, swings, a crawling tube, bridges, climbing pole, rung ladder and corkscrew climber. Also planned are park benches and picnic tables, plus a plaque honoring Rachel's memory.
The county intended to fix up the park eventually, but had it way down on its to-do list. But after Spaulding called Pleasant Hill's Richard Smith, president of the West Fairfax County Citizens Association (WFCCA), the someday dream became a reachable reality.
HE TOLD HER about the Mastenbrook grant — a matching-fund program through which volunteers may donate money or in-kind services, such as park maintenance and landscaping. Total cost to renovate the park is $40,000. The county's already earmarked $20,000 for it, and the Mastenbrook fund will match anything the community raises, up to $10,000.
That leaves Spaulding with $10,000 to come up with and, since fund-raising efforts began in March, she's raised about 65 percent of it. "I want to thank all of those who have donated, thus far, to the park," she said. "Your generosity is very appreciated."
But she hopes to raise the rest, in the next month. "We are planning on installing [the equipment] and dedicating the park, sometime in December, depending on the weather," said Spaulding. "Landscaping will be done in the spring."
Fittingly, local school children have pitched in to help. When school ended in June, instead of giving gifts to their teacher, students in Lynne Rommel's kindergarten class at Virginia Run Elementary contributed $515 to the park. Teacher Todd Pangman's fifth-graders donated $105.
"That was really nice of both classes," said Spaulding. "Hopefully, we'll meet our goal."
Also helping in a big way are the girls of Brownie Troop 782. They sold daffodils at the Virginia Run community's toy and clothing sale on Sept. 20 and raised more than $100 for the park.
AND THROUGH Oct. 31, they're selling daffodil bulbs for $10/dozen or $5/half-dozen, in hopes of raising $200 more to contribute. To place an order call troop leaders Connie McGough, 703-631-0049, or Cindy Roberts, 703-266-3527, or e-mail ConnieLCollins@aol.com. The Brownies will also be selling bulbs on Sunday, Oct. 19, from 2-5 p.m., in front of the Centrewood Plaza Giant Foods store.
"I was floored when I heard they were doing this," said Spaulding. "The troop wanted to do the project — it was their idea. The girls are all the same age that Rachel would have been [now], so they can relate to her. And when they go to the park, they can tell their friends that they raised money for it."
A few weeks ago, Rachel's mother, Meg Crossett and youngest daughter, Katherine, met the Brownies at the park. "I told them about Rachel and why she used to like this park," said Crossett. "And I took plans of the [renovation] so they can see what it'll look like."
She's delighted with their help and said their efforts also brought awareness to September's being "Childhood Cancer Month." The Brownies will also return for the park's dedication ceremony and will help plant some daffodil bulbs there.
"We remembered reading about Rachel in the paper and hearing about Rachel's Park," said McGough. "It was right in the neighborhood. And last year, when we were buying [flower] bulbs, my daughter [Allison Laseau, 8] mentioned that selling bulbs was something the troop could do as a group for Rachel's Park."
She said the girls also enjoyed meeting Rachel's mother and little sister. "They got a lot out of it," said McGough. "And it made them realize, even at a young age, just how lucky you are to have your health."
Anyone wishing to make a donation may send checks payable to Rachel's Park to: Sally Spaulding, 13719 Piedmont Vista Drive, Haymarket, VA 20169.