Across the country as America marks the 20th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, communities are preparing to honor the lives that were lost during the terrorist attacks.
Those lives are already being commemorated in Cranbury Township as 2,977 American flags were planted on an open grass field in Heritage Park near the intersection of South Main Street and Old Trenton Road to honor the people killed in New York City, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C.
The flag memorial can be seen by people walking through Heritage Park toward the field near the intersection and while driving past the corner of the intersection.
The idea for a memorial in the park came from Donovan Mavoides, Gavin Mavoides and Tess Staples, all local Cranbury residents and friends.
“The goal of this memorial is to remember the victims and the bravery on Sept. 11. I hope people who come across the memorial just remember the American values and spirit that was after Sept. 11,” Gavin said.
The 16-year-olds were first thinking of creating a flag memorial at The Peddie School in Hightstown, where all three attend school, but instead chose Heritage Park after they thought permission would be easier to achieve from the township.
“Tess, Donovan and I live close to Heritage Park and we thought the big open field would look really good,” Gavin said. “We wanted to do something for the 20th anniversary of Sept. 11, so we did the research and knew that it would be doable and that the town would support us. We started planning in the middle of the summer in the beginning of July.”
With a group of 25 volunteers that featured people who heard about the memorial, friends, family, and Boy Scouts from Troop 52, the three students planted all 2,977 American flags on Sept. 5 in one hour.
“Everyone has a busy life, but I want people to take a minute and look at the memorial and think and reflect how fortunate we are to live in this nation,” Tess said. “Obviously it has been really hectic the last year or two and to have more than 20 volunteers and have 20 donors just shows how amazing our community is. I am lucky to be part of it.”
To have the flags planted neatly and in order volunteers spent two hours the day before on Sept. 4 putting out a grid and utilizing measuring tape to place a marker every three feet for the flags. Strings were then also placed to signal every three feet where to plant a flag until all the rows were done.
“The memorial draws attention to the 2,977 people who died on Sept. 11, 2001, but also I think it rallies people around this idea of coming together because right now in America it is a really divisive time,” Donovan said. “The first thing I felt once we planted all of the flags was a sense of pride and the result was really good.”
The memorial will remain at Heritage Park until Sept. 12.
“This was a really fun project and turned out really well. The positive responses we have received have been really cool and this was a worthwhile project,” Donovan said. “Heritage Park’s location is a good one because there is so much traffic and is a place where the memorial would be seen the most.”
Donovan, Gavin and Tess asked the Helene Cody Foundation for a donation early on in the process and were granted $1,500 towards their effort. The foundation’s mission is inspire youth to volunteer, to better their communities and themselves, according the foundation website.
The matching grant by the foundation encouraged other businesses and neighbors to chip in before the three had gotten the rest of the funds collected.
The other donors included about 20 neighbors, restaurants and businesses. The businesses that contributed to the effort consisted of Americana Kitchen and Bar, Cranbury Pizza, Studio 43, Teddy’s Restaurant, Italian Touch, and Cranbury Fields’ Flower Farm.
“There have been a lot of texts saying ‘Thank You’ for creating this memorial. I do not necessarily want to be thanked because it is something for everyone,” Tess said. “I hope people recognize that it is for the community and for people to visit who have lost someone. The memorial showed me that even though Cranbury is a small community we can still do big things.”