FOREST GROVE, Ore. (KOIN) — As Susan Dieter-Robinson and her husband Tom were trying to decide on a name for the children’s playground they’re spearheading, one name just stuck.
“We want people in the neighborhood to say that they’re going to Anna and Abby’s yard,” Susan told KOIN 6 News. “We just feel like it does a lot of for our hearts, actually, to hear those words from their friends and the kids in the neighborhood.”
Anna and Abby died Oct. 20, 2013 as they played in a pile of leaves in front of their house in Forest Grove. An SUV driven by Cinthya Garcia-Cisneros drove through the leaves.
Anna, who was 6, died in the arms of a firefighter. Her sister Abby, who was 11, died the next day.
Garcia-Cisneros, who was 19 at the time, was sentenced to 6 years of formal probation and 250 hours of community service. When she was sentenced, Susan Dieter-Robinson spoke directly to her in court.
“I too have a choice to make,” Robinson said through tears. “I can live the rest of my life full of anger and resentment towards you. Or, I can choose to forgive you. I forgive you, I do. There are consequences to our behaviors. That’s what we taught our girls.”
From that day forward, Susan and Tom sought to find a way to honor their girls in a meaningful way.
“Shortly after the girls went to heaven is when we decided we were going to work on building a park because play has always really been important to us,” she said. They didn’t want to use money they received in a memorial fund on themselves, “but rather to do something in honor of the girls. And so it really started then.”
Now, more than 2 years later, Anna and Abby’s Yard is beginning to take shape. Design consultant Martha Rainey said they hope to complete the final design this summer and are entering their final fundraising push.The fundraising
“This park is not what we’re building, it’s what our community is building,” Susan told KOIN 6 News. “It’s not rare that a child will come to my doorstep with a bag of change that they raised at a lemonade stand to help. You know, it might be $5 in a zip lock bag.”
So far they’ve raised more than $100,000 and hope to raise more to make the playground spectacular.
Anna and Abby’s Yard is planned for Rogers Park, one of the oldest and most loved parks in Forest Grove. As Tom Gamble, the Forest Grove director of Parks and Recreation said, the park “is at the point of needing an upgrade.”
The design of the playground “is going to be unique, really, in western Washington County,” Gamble said. It will be fully accessible for all, including wheelchairs.A labor of love
Once the playground is built, Susan and Tom hope the community will feel a special connection.
“When I say that I don’t necessarily mean a connection to my girls, although our family will feel that connection, but a connection just rooted in love with their own family,” Susan said.
“I often think about the day when we’ll be sitting here playing, you know watching people play, and just how it will make my heart feel.”
Susan and Tom became a blended family in 2011. For their wedding, Anna and Abby decorated rocks with hearts — Love Rocks — for wedding guests.
In mid-2014, Susan launched a Love Rocks Facebook page showing others how to make Love Rocks.
“I started thinking what if I teach people how to make these and share them as a way to kind of give back – because we felt so taken care of, so held, through this new journey,” Susan told KOIN 6 News in December 2014.
Love Rocks have since been placed — and found — literally all over the world. Anna and Abby’s Yard will have Love Rocks incorporated into the playground’s design.
“The Love Rocks theme is definitely very much a part it,” design consultant Martha Rainey said. “We’re going to have custom made Love Rock steppers. We have a climber onto a deck that’s a Love Rock.”
Susan said her girls have “done more in the last 2 years than I can probably ever imagine doing in my lifetime through Love Rocks and just people hearing their story. … Love Rocks is something that has become very tangible in spreading the love and joy.”
Susan and Tom live just a few blocks from Rogers Park and said the girls liked to play in a tree you can sit in.
“So, when I go for walks, often I’ll deposit Love Rocks in that tree,” she said.Looking toward the future
They found out on Mother’s Day 2015 they were expecting another child and welcomed that baby girl in December.
“It’s been amazing and hard, very emotional at times,” Susan said. “But we do feel very blessed by our little girl. We just feel very blessed. I mean, we have a very strong faith and we defintiely know that she’s sent to us. I think it’s exactly what our hearts needed.”
Over time, her thoughts about the playground have evolved.
“I used to think about once the playground was done that we’d do a big dedication and then I probably would never come to the playground because it would hurt my heart. And then when our little one was born I thought she’s going to be able to grow up in this space and play in a place that’s dedicated to her sisters, which is pretty special.”
She admits there isn’t a moment that goes by where she doesn’t have a sadness in her heart. But she also admits there are waves of joy and she embraces both feelings.
“I read stories about how these Love Rocks have touched people across the country and if I was closed to that I’d never experience that,” she said.
“I never stopped being a mom and I never will stop being a mom.”
She is so grateful for the support the community has shown them since the girls “went to heaven.”
“What (the community has) done is just beyond words,” she said. “Even now love and support continues, not just for our own family but for one another.”