EMBRUN – Following a plea for help from the township of Russell, several residents have added their voices to an online grant application that, if successful, would assist the municipality in funding a gazebo for the future Jonathon Pitre Park.

“I am thrilled that we will have this beautiful park honouring our young warrior and hero, Jonathon Pitre,” Connie Johnston said.

Through a social media announcement posted on Nov. 20, Russell residents have been asked to visit the project’s webpage on The Commonwell Learning and Engagement Accelerator Fund (LEAF) Initiative website (thecommonwell.ca/locations/parc-jonathan-pitre-park/). Once completed, the Jonathon Pitre Park will be the township’s only fully accessible and inclusive park. The roughly $1.5 million project is expected to be finished next spring.

“This park would be a symbol of determination and achievement for Jonathon and all people facing physical or mental challenges,” the application’s project description states. A former Russell resident, Pitre, who suffered from epidermolysis bullosa, died in April 2018 at the age of 17. It’s been noted that he was referred to as the “butterfly child” because his skin was as fragile as a butterfly’s wings.

The Jonathon Pitre Park project is part of Russell’s Recreation Complex project, which will take several years and many millions of dollars to complete. The accessible park is part of Phase 1 and 2. Construction began on the park in June 2021 and is expected to finish in the spring of 2022. The gazebo is to be added in the summer of 2022.

“Accessibility for all is such an important part of a growing and thriving community like Russell,” Catherine Kozera said. “Everyone deserves the ability to play and exercise and have an accommodating park available. Named after such a special member of our town, [it] shows why small-town living is so wonderful. I know my family can’t wait to explore this new addition to our town.”

So far, nine people have signed on to the project’s LEAF profile to leave supportive messages, including Coun. Cindy Saucier. Residents in support of the project are encouraged to visit the application page to leave their message of support.

“When our kids of all different abilities grow up playing together, they grow up learning together, creating together, building community together,” Lisa Deacon said. “I hope my sons will someday be under the shade of the gazebo, building new relationships and embarking on their journey of forming community together.”