The memory of Giuliana D’Aria lives on at the grounds of Heritage Park.
Described by family and friends as a child full of joy, a dedication ceremony was held in her honor at Heritage Park on July 17, when donations from her family were officially unveiled.
The D’Aria family donated a bench, swing set and a musical instrument to the park located at 57 S. Main St. in Cranbury.
“It is amazing to see everything finished. It is really emotional and I am really happy about it. I am really happy that other children are coming and playing on the swings and enjoying it,” said Gianna Foglia D’Aria, mother of Giuliana. “Giuliana is being remembered in a happy and positive way.”
Giuliana was a young girl in Cranbury who lost her life two weeks before her third birthday in June of 2016 to a battle to Leigh Syndrome.
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, Leigh syndrome is a severe neurological disorder that usually becomes apparent in the first year of life. The condition is characterized by progressive loss of mental and movement abilities and is fatal within two to three years, usually due to respiratory failure.
“We wanted her to be remembered, but we want her life to have positive meaning. I could not think of a better way for children to enjoy life,” D’Aria said. “When she was alive we wished she could do so many things that she couldn’t do. Now I hope every child can do all the things children do. They should play, have fun, smile and laugh. I hope that this park brings that for them.”
She said she hopes people takeaway being happy and just enjoying life from her daughter’s life.
“She was always happy and she made me realize even in the hardest of times you can find happiness and be grateful for something. I hope people enjoy life at this park and in their own lives,” she explained.
During the ceremony, Cranbury Mayor James Taylor read out a proclamation proclaiming July 17, 2019 as Giuliana D’Aria Day.
“I had no idea they were going to do the proclamation and it was so touching and made me feel supported. Her life, even though it was short on this earth, is valued and remembered,” D’Aria said.
Taylor said the donations are fantastic for Giuliana’s memory and for Heritage Park.
“As a parent I cannot imagine the emotions going through the D’Aria’s when your daughter gets a diagnosis that there is no cure for. To make something beautiful out of everything you have gone through is truly something,” Mayor Taylor said. “These additions include a swing for disabled children, which gives people will special needs an opportunity [to play]. This park is really the only one with special needs equipment.”
Taylor explained that the dedication and donations from the D’Aria family stokes dialogue.
“In 10 or 20 years from now people will remember Giuliana. Today is a sense of community. We are here to support each other in good times and in bad and that is what a sense of community is,” he said.
When it came to the proclamation for Giuliana D’Aria Day, Taylor said he did not want it written as a standard proclamation.
“When the proclamation was written I got really emotional reading it. We wanted something that had a little more info and recognition of what the family went through,” he said. “Proclaiming July 17, 2019 [as] Giuliana D’Aria Day is the day [it happened], but to me every year on July 17 is that day in remembrance of Giuliana.”
Lisa Rue, chairperson of the Parks Commission, said it took a year to get the donations finished and put in place at Heritage Park.
“It took a couple stages, but is just wonderful for Giuliana’s memory. I love that we now have a handicap swing, which we have never had before,” she said. “I grew up with Gianna and seeing this finished is wonderful.”
Both the Recreation Commission and the Parks Commission worked together with the family to get everything finished in honor of Giuliana, according to officials.
Sally O’Grady, first vice chairperson of the Parks Commission, said her house is next to the park and has already been hearing music being played from the instrument the D’Aria family donated.
“I hope people will always remember little Giuliana even if they did not meet her. There are lives that are taken too early from us,” O’Grady said. “God has a purpose for everything even if we only get them for three years.”
The D’Aria family was able to make the donations to Heritage Park with help from both family and friends, which will continue Giuliana’s memory in Cranbury.