PETAL, MS (WDAM) - Family and friends gathered Sunday for the ribbon cutting of a very special playground in Petal.
After months of fundraisers and construction, a small dedication ceremony for the Toni Marino Memorial Playground was held at First Baptist Church.
Antonia "Toni" Marino was diagnosed with leukemia when she was eight-years-old. After a three-year battle, Toni passed away on December 26, 2016.
"I know that she's smiling down, I really do," said Toni's mother, Lacy Marino. "I just think she's up in heaven smiling down, I really do."
Lacy and her husband Kevin said they relied on the support from the Petal community and their First Baptist community to get through the three-years of ups and downs.
"Let's put it this way, we could not go three years without the support," Marino said.
First Baptist Pastor Brad Eubanks said a church member offered the first donation toward the building of the playground as a way to never forget the special little girl. Since then, over $50,000 was raised to fund the construction.
"I think that the fact that little children are going to build lasting friendships on this playground here at the church with the church basis, I think that's fantastic," Marino said. "Toni would love that, she had a lot of friends at church and at school and on the playground. I think it's a picture of eternal youth."
Toni's parents said their daughter was full of life and loved to be around friends at school or at church. The city of Petal rallied around Toni's battle with cancer, declaring "Toni Marino Day" on Sunday, September 11, 2016. A ceremony was held at Petal First Baptist Church, which included Mayor Marx
and the Board of Aldermen presenting a proclamation to Toni.
"She was kind of a grown up, but still had her youth," Marino said. "She had to face these issues that made her a grown up, but she was always a child at heart and I think the playground symbolizes that."