RANDOLPH — An army of volunteers from multiple states and members of area police and fire departments gathered Thursday to build a playground in memory of town native and late Boston police Sgt. Dennis “DJ” Simmonds.
“It’s amazing to see everyone,” Larry Grant, Simmonds’ uncle, said about the group of more than 50 volunteers. “It’s people recognizing what he did and where he’s at now.”
The playground is in Belcher Park where Simmonds rode his bike and played soccer as a child. It is being built by nonprofit Where Angels Play Foundation and funded through sales at Jersey Mikes Subs stores throughout New England from last year.
Thursday morning was the first day of construction at the park. It will continue Friday and the playground will be complete Saturday for a ribbon cutting ceremony.
It will be a place for children to play, including Dennis Oliver Grant, Simmonds’ nephew who was born Wednesday. Simmonds’ mother, Roxanne, and sister, Nicole, were unable to be there to see the playground built because of the baby’s birth, but they tuned in Thursday morning on a video call.
The playground was initially planned to be built in the fall, but those plans were delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
After completing the playground in Randolph, volunteers will head to New Hampshire to build another one. Larry Grant said he plans to pay it forward and participate in that build.
Where Angels Play formed in response to Hurricane Sandy, which damaged the mid-Atlantic coast in 2012, and to remember the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting in Connecticut, also in 2012.
The project has been replicated around the country and the Randolph playground will be the 55th build by the foundation.
“This is, I believe, Dennis’ way of celebrating all our communities. . . . and he’s directing it all from up above with the angels,” said Bill Lavin, founder of the organization and a retired firefighter.
Where Angels Play also built a playground in Dorchester to honor Victoria McGrath, who was injured in the Boston Marathon bombings and died in a car crash in 2016, and another in Wilmington for Massachusetts Institute of Technology officer Sean Collier, who was shot and killed in Cambridge in 2013 during the search for Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev after the marathon bombings.
Simmonds wanted to be a police officer since he was a child. When he would see a law enforcement officer or a first responder in uniform, he could call them “police,” said Oliver Grant, Simmonds’ grandfather, who lives in Randolph.
After graduating from college, Simmonds joined the police academy and then the Boston police, where he served for six years.
He was injured in 2013 when an explosive detonated near him during the search in Watertown for the Boston Marathon bombers. Simmonds died at the age of 28, nearly a year later a result of the injuries he sustained. He was posthumously promoted to sergeant in 2018.
April is a difficult month for the family because it is the month of his birth, death and burial, Oliver Grant said.
“It’s been seven years now and we don’t forget,” he said.
Michelle Tyler, Randolph’s planning director, is the project leader from town hall. She has made sure the volunteers have what they needed and has worked with the Simmonds family, including choosing the site for the park.
She has experience with building playgrounds as a volunteer, and said she was shocked when the foundation said it would have the playground complete in a few days. With the number of volunteers Tyler saw Thursday, she thinks it’s possible.
Volunteer Bruce Pollock is a retired firefighter from New Jersey. He’s part of the “Angel’s Army” that has built multiple playgrounds with When Angels Play.
“We’re helping with the healing for the Simmonds family and helping to provide (a place for) laughter and joy for kids,” he said. ” It’s all about the community getting together and doing something positive.”
Staff writer Mina Corpuz can be reached by email at email@example.com. You can follow her on Twitter @mlcorpuz. Support local journalism by purchasing a digital or print subscription to The Enterprise today.
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