PUNXSUTAWNEY — Ongoing fundraisers in memory of a Punxsutawney teenager have helped to build a popular playground in the east end of town.
East End Playground, constructed in the summer of 2017, is located beside Thomas L. Barletta Skate Park and Rails to Trails.
Josh was 18 years old when he died suddenly in Ocean City, Maryland, in 2016.
Linda Smith, Josh’s mother, said their family has lived in Punxsutawney for 21 years.
Through various donations, fundraisers and community support, equipment like climbing features, adaptive swing and merry-go-round were installed in May of 2017, Smith said. The next summer, an “inclusive spinner” was added. The playground’s large welcome stone reads “Fly High Josh” at the top.
Last summer, two Eagle Scout projects benefited the park. Alex Depp installed four benches, and Hayden Johnson built a butterfly garden.
“We have raised enough to purchase and install a pavilion this spring,” she said.
They also hope to add a second pavilion for the skate park area next to playground, she said.
The Smith family is currently hosting a joint fundraiser with Laska’s Pizza, raising funds for the playground’s next project — a “ride-on/climber” attraction resembling a jeep, she said.
This new item for the playground is connected to two things her son loved, Smith said — his red jeep and Laska’s Pizza.
“It will also fit well with the nature theme of the playground,” Smith said. “It will be a nice addition for younger children.”
Laska’s Pizza coupons are available, benefiting East End Playground, for $6 each. Owner Katie Laska was like a second mother to Josh, Smith said, and was glad to help.
“Josh loved Laska’s pizza since he was very young,” Smith said. “He was so excited when he got a job working there when he was 16.”
A variety of fundraisers, including a golf tournament, spaghetti dinner, dances, bingo, candy sales and movie nights have been held for EEP, Smith said.
“This park has become a favorite location in our community for so many people to enjoy,” she said.
The park offers a variety of activities for all ages, Smith said, including people who walk or bike Rails to Trails, teenagers riding skateboards, people playing roller hockey or skating and young children learning how to ride their bikes. Soon, people will also be able to play on a tennis court — one with a special meaning behind it.
“Kally’s Kourt,” an ongoing fundraiser hosted by the Graham family in memory of Kally Graham, is also in the process of raising funds to build a tennis court at the same Punxsutawney park. Josh and Kally were good friends, Smith said.
“Nothing can take away the pain of losing a child,” she said. “Working on this playground after we lost Josh gave us some sense of direction — planning it with all of the things we knew he would’ve loved.”
Being outdoors, at first, was difficult for the family, Smith said, but they tried to keep all the good times with Josh in mind.
“Building something in his memory and having the support of so many people meant the world to us,” she said. “When I see the playground now, I still miss him, of course, but it helps to know how much he was loved and how supportive our family, friends and community are.”
Laska’s Pizza coupons can be purchased from the Smith family and friends, who can be reached through the Josh Smith Memorial Playground Facebook page. Online donations can be made to the JSMP during the “Week of Giving” on March 18-22 at www.bbcfgives.org. Smith can also be reached at 814-591-5934.