Colin McGrath’s broad smile is visible throughout the South Boston home where he lived, only a block from the sidewalk where the 2-year-old was struck and killed by a car last July.
In one photograph, he hugs his big sister, 4-year-old Sloane. In another, he flashes a grin with his parents, Kerri and Brendan. His blond curls, trimmed during his first haircut on the week of his death, are carefully preserved.
“I think of this incredible joy that he had for just under three years,” Kerri McGrath said, her eyes welling with tears. “Everything was interesting to him. Everything was exciting.”
The McGraths are determined that his spirit will endure, by giving back to a community that rallied around them in the days and months after Colin’s death, which occurred when a van hurtled onto the sidewalk after a collision at the busy intersection of L and Sixth streets.
Through the Colin's Joy Project, the couple are seeking to honor their son’s memory by enhancing nearby playgrounds, building a neighborhood courtyard, bolstering children’s library programs, and lending a helping hand to mothers in need.
“We thought, what can we do to have a positive impact on the community?” Brendan said. “This is our way of being his parents every day and making sure his legacy lives on.”
The McGraths, seated in the living room of their M Street home, did not wish to discuss the accident or the ongoing investigation.
Since the crash, a digital speed indicator and plastic pylons have been added to the intersection as safety precautions, residents said.
Colin was being pushed in a stroller, returning from a playground with his sister and a nanny, when the van and a small sedan collided. Sloane suffered arm injuries that required multiple surgeries and has completely recovered. She is now learning to ice-skate.
Close to the crash site, nearly seven months later, a large picture of Colin remains affixed to an iron fence in front of the Monsignor John T. Powers Apartments, a Boston Housing Authority complex for the elderly and disabled where the community courtyard will be built. Blue ribbons in the boy’s memory still adorn many houses in the neighborhood.
“Even in our hardest days, we see one of those blue ribbons and we realize we’re not alone,” said Kerri, 39, a primary care physician at Massachusetts General Hospital. Brendan, 34, works in finance.
Despite the constant reminders of the tragedy, the couple does not wish to move away.
“This is where he is. This is where we feel him,” Kerri said.
And when they visit his grave in Cedar Grove Cemetery in Dorchester, a bit of his joy — in the form of his favorite doughnut holes — has come with them.
The McGraths, who have partnered with The Boston Foundation, stressed that they want to focus on the positive momentum that has been generated since Colin’s death. Donations to the project have topped $400,000 and are climbing steadily. Kerri also is training for the Boston Marathon, her first, in another fund-raising effort.
Play spaces are planned for M Street Park, Marine Park, and South Boston Catholic Academy, where Colin went to preschool and where Sloane is a student. The project has already supported families in need through Julie’s Family Learning Center and the South Boston Neighborhood House, and the McGraths wish to continue helping at-risk mothers with education, job training, and other assistance.
At the Powers Apartments, the McGraths envision a place for reading, talking, and quiet mingling among generations.
“We started to envision this as our relationship with him,” Kerri said of Colin. “We don’t want it to be a rambunctious play space. We want a space where people can come together. It’s what has happened in our lives.”
The outpouring of support since Colin’s death, from the neighborhood and beyond, has been overwhelming, the McGraths said.
“I never thought that someone thinking of me from across the country would help, but it does,” Kerri said.
Still, there are mornings when getting out of bed is a struggle, days when the immeasurable grief of losing a child envelops them again.
“I’ll say, ‘I can’t do this one more time,’ ” Kerri said. “But we really do have a ton of reasons to get up and a ton of people who help us do that.”
The McGraths said their hope is that Colin’s legacy endures through the community improvements he inspired.
That legacy, Brendan said, is to “remember the joy he lived with each day, embrace it, and share it with other people.”Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.