Oakleigh's Smile Fundraiser

Joelle Long talks to the Journal Gazette about building a playground to keep the memory of their daughter alive.

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Joelle Long accepts donations for the Oakleigh’s Smile playground during the fundraiser.

Tragedy plants seeds for playground project

Photos by Ben Mikesell | The Journal Gazette
Griffin Forsness, 3, pets a Holland Lop rabbit at the Oakleigh’s Smile Back-to-School Bash at Christ’s Hope Ministries and Church.

Even at 2 months old, Oakleigh Long was always smiling.

The first child for Ryan and Joelle Long, Oakleigh brought an unmatched joy to her parents’ lives. Then the unthinkable happened.

In May, Ryan awoke in the middle of the night and instantly knew something was wrong, according to his father, Bob Long. He went into Oakleigh’s room and she was no longer breathing. Officially, her cause of death was SIDS or sudden infant death syndrome.

Ryan Long’s sister, Amanda Traylor, remembers the moment she heard about the tragedy. Traylor, a teacher at Creative Treasures Preschool with three children of her own, was excited to be an aunt for the first time.

“It just doesn’t seem real,” she said. “You walk around in a fog for a few days.”

While Ryan and Joelle Long now live in Paducah, Kentucky, he is originally from Fort Wayne. His parents and Traylor still live here.

The family set up a profile on gofundme.com, a personal online fundraising website, after Oakleigh died to finance a project to remember her. They weren’t sure what that project would be.

But it slowly came to them.

Creative Treasures, on Carroll Road next to the Allen County Fairgrounds, has been open for four years. In that time, enrollment in the preschool has gone from 11 students to 72. As the years go by, the school has seen a great need for a playground.

Traylor said they had tried a few fundraisers in the past to build a playground but were never able to raise much money.

However, the pieces would soon fall into place.

To remember Oakleigh, co-owners and co-directors of Creative Treasures Preschool, Sandy Glumb and Amy Barcelona, decided to give oak trees to Oakleigh’s family members.

Traylor decided hers should be at Creative Treasures so she could see it every day and everyone would be able to enjoy it.

“We decided we would put a plaque on it and put it by the playground when it is built,” Traylor said. “I told my dad, who told my brother, and that’s when he and Joelle decided what the Go Fund Me money should be for.”

On Aug. 9, the preschool had music, rides, games, a petting zoo, and more at its Carroll Road location to raise additional money for the playground, now named “Oakleigh’s Smile.”

Traylor said the carnivallike back-to-school bash was successful and the outpouring of love from the community has been overwhelming.

During the Aug. 9 event alone, they were able to raise $6,700. Donations can be made to Christ Hope Ministry and Church at 2818 Carroll Road.

“We have seen so many good people out of this tragedy,” Traylor said. “As a family, we feel it and appreciate it.”

The family says that it all started with Creative Treasures and its gesture of giving oak trees to the family.

The last component of the project is a memorial scholarship in Oakleigh’s name for children at the preschool who are in need of tuition entitled “Seeds from Oakleigh.”

“Between the playground, the oak tree right there at the playground, and the scholarship fund, Oakleigh will never be forgotten,” Bob Long, Oakleigh’s grandfather, said. “Now she’ll be making other kids smile, too.”

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