Molly Abbruzzese walked into Challenged Child and Friends Wednesday morning $10,000 short of her goal.
She gave her pitch to a handful of the nonprofit school’s board members and local community and business leaders. She hoped they could spread the word about the school’s need for a new playground.
As she finished her presentation, Abbruzzese asked those listening if they had any questions. Jim Mathis, president of the North Georgia Community Foundation, raised his hand.
“I’ll give you $1,000,” he said.
Abbruzzese’s mouth dropped open.
Across the table from Mathis, Jerry Coker, vice president of sales for Wilheit Packaging Materials, nodded.
“Wilheit Packaging will pick up the rest,” he said.
Mathis and Coker made their donations for Abbruzzese’s daughter, Ada, a little girl they have never, and will never, meet.
Ada was born in 2009, weighing in at 3 pounds 12 ounces, with no known syndrome and numerous challenges, including a heart defect, kidney defect, chromosomal abnormalities, hearing impairment, optic disk malformations and growth hormone deficiency, to name a few.
“There was no child documented globally with her particular translocation,” Abbruzzese said of Ada’s chromosomal abnormalities. “At Challenged Child and Friends, the reality is your child is more than ‘one in a million.’ Ada was one in 6.8 billion.”
Molly and her husband, Tom Abbruzzese, relocated their daughters Ada and Emmie Rose from Florida to Gainesville for the services offered at Challenged Child and Northeast Georgia Medical Center.
On her first day at Challenged Child, 14-pound Ada had a specially-sized chair waiting for her at a classroom table with her peers.
“She’d never been able to sit in a chair before,” Abbruzzese said. “From the moment I placed her in the chair, Ada looked nervous. Then this little boy named Cameron pushed a block across the table to her and said, ‘You beautiful.’
“The remarkable thing was that Cameron did not talk.”
Included in a laundry list of what-ifs was the warning Ada would never learn to walk or talk, Abbruzzese said.
At Challenged Child, she learned to sign. She could sign, “I really love you,” and say “Momma” and “Dadda.”
Ada spent two years at the school. Two months before she died on Nov. 17, 2013, Ada was walking without a walker while holding a hand. She had just turned 4 years old.
“Most importantly, she was happy,” Abbruzzese said. “She lived an optimal life.”
Ada’s parents vowed to continue her legacy through continued support of Challenged Child.
Over the last two years, they raised funds to build a new, fully handicapped-accessible playground at the school.
“Ada’s Playground celebrates conquering the ‘what-ifs’ and allowing our children to use their imagination and play to build the confidence they need to begin their life successes,” Abbruzzese said. “To become more than one in a million.”
The playground will support child development, improve gross motor skills and increase muscle tone. It will be accessible to children of all capabilities, with a smooth surface for walkers and a wide ramp for children in wheelchairs.
“Ada couldn’t get her walker very easily through the mulch on the (current) playground,” Abbruzzese said. “It became difficult, so some days she had to be carried around, which was wonderful for her self-confidence, but she needed to build strength in her legs and to practice walking.”
Originally, the playground was going to cost more than $130,000. The Abruzzeses raised more than $70,000 through their own efforts, and the school secured a grant for $30,000. Pledges of more than 50 volunteers will waive thousands in construction costs, which left only the $10,000 need.
Abbruzzese profusely thanked Mathis and Coker for their generosity. She said she was going to stop by Ada’s grave Wednesday to bring her balloons and tell her the news.
“The fact that they didn’t raise Ada, that the gentlemen in that room never even met her,” Abbruzzese said, “and yet her story impacted them enough that they are willing to make those donations, it’s amazing.”