COVINGTON — Despite the horrific loss she suffered earlier this year when her little daughter died in a playground incident, Latanya DeBruhl is doing her best to put smiles on the faces of hundreds of area children this Christmas. Her family’s Safe at Play organization is working with the North Atlanta Toys for Tots to provide a toy and two books to 500 youngsters in need.
“Toys for Tots this year has been an initiative we’re doing on behalf of my daughter, not only to make people aware of playground safety, but providing other services, such as CPR training,” DeBruhl said. “My daughter was a Girl Scout and part of the Girl Scout promise is to help others at all times. That’s what we’re doing this holiday season.”
Children from Rockdale, Newton, Walton and DeKalb counties who have registered and been approved are invited to come out to the Safe at Play Holiday Giveaway on Dec. 22, at Victory Community Church on Mount Zion Road in Oxford from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Toys will be awarded on a first-come, first-served basis.
Infants through 12-year-old children are eligible to receive the toys if they meet certain criteria and can present specific documentation, such as assistance from the Department of Human Services (DHS) or other governmental agencies. DeBruhl said parents should go online to www.safeatplay.org to register for the toy giveaway and to see what is required. They are asked to bring with them certain items, such as their DHS card or proof of income if they are not receiving assistance from DHS, as well as photo identification and their child’s birth certificate. Other specific items are listed on the website, as well.
“Participants will be screened,” DeBruhl said. “They will register on the website and will need to provide proof of their need be it their SNAP card, Medicaid card, things like that.”
The DeBruhls’ organization, Safe at Play is teaming up with the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves and Marine Toys for Tots Foundation to make this event possible. The toys will be picked up from the Toys for Tots warehouse in Atlanta and distributed to children that day at Victory Community Church where the DeBruhl family worships.
This will be the first Christmas without Andrea Tyrah DeBruhl, the 5-year-old daughter of Latanya and Lee Andree DeBruhl of Covington. The Newton County Theme School at Ficquett kindergarten student was outside with the other students and playing on the school’s monkey bars the afternoon of Feb. 1 when the accident occurred. According to reports, an autopsy showed she died of asphyxiation after falling while playing on a domed playground structure. The Covington Police Department ruled her death accidental and stated her injury was the result of being caught on the dome-shaped playground equipment, reports stated.
The Newton County School System issued a statement at the time reporting there were 10 teachers and paraprofessionals supervising the students on the playground when the accident occurred. The school system stated teachers provided medical assistance to the kindergartener and called 911.
The DeBruhls say their little daughter suffered from asphyxiation when she became entangled in the monkey bars. They said her head was caught in the opening near the top of the bars, an opening which is 7 inches wide. They point out that the National Safety Council has identified the dangers of head entrapment hazards on monkey bars and recommends that monkey bars should have no openings that measure between 3.5 to 9 inches.
Her mother tries to remain composed, but chokes up when talking about the loss of her only daughter.
“My husband and I and our family don’t want this to happen to any other child,” DeBruhl said. “It was something that was preventable and that is our mission — to prevent needless childhood injuries, disabilities and death. When educators follow safeguard procedures, this wouldn’t happen.”
After their little girl died, the DeBruhls started an organization in hopes of preventing such incidents from happening to other children.
“That was my baby,” Mrs. DeBruhl said. “We promote playground safety awareness and want to make sure all children are safe and play in a safe environment. We want to prevent playground injuries and to make sure students, educators and parents are aware of safe procedures for elementary through middle school students since that is the age affected by playground injuries.”
The DeBruhls, who also have two sons, Tyson, 9, and Andrew, 5, said they started Safe at Play in memory of their small daughter.
“Our mission … is to educate schools, parents, children and the community at large on the vital importance of playground safety as it relates to active and proper supervision of children, usage of age-appropriate designed playground equipment and equipment maintenance,” Mrs. DeBruhl said. “In addition, we seek to pay forward charitable help and services to the community and those in need in honor of our daughter.”
Playground injuries are a leading cause of injury to children in childcare and to children ages 5-14 in schools, DeBruhl said, adding that each year in the U.S., emergency departments treat more than 200,000 children ages 14 and younger for playground-related injuries. Citing information from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, DeBruhl said it is estimated that one-third of playground equipment-related deaths and 75 percent of playground equipment-related injuries occur on public playgrounds.
Between 1990-2000, 147 children ages 14 and younger died from playground-related injuries, according to the latest numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of that number, 82, or 56 percent of those children died from strangulation and 31, or 20 percent died from falls to the playground surface. While 70 percent of those deaths occurred on home playgrounds, the rest were on public playgrounds. About 75 percent of non-fatal injuries related to playground equipment occur on public playgrounds, with most of them happening at schools and day care centers.
The CDC reports children ages 5-9 have higher rates of emergency department visits for playground injuries than any other age group, with most of those injuries occurring at school. Risk factors on public playgrounds show more injuries occur on climbers than on any other equipment, according to the CDC, with swings responsible for most injuries on home playgrounds.
In addition to promoting awareness on playground safety, the DeBruhls’ organization has teamed up with the American Heart Association and American Red Cross to train adults and children in first aid, CPR and other life-saving procedures. DeBruhl said Safe at Play is also an advocate committed to seeking funding and legislation at the local, state and national levels for safe playgrounds and accountability for adult supervisors. In the organization’s Pay It Forward program, Safe at Play offers charitable help and services to those in need in honor of the late Andrea Tyrah DeBruhl.
The Toys for Tots giveaway is one of those pay-it-forward programs and one Mrs. DeBruhl said she hopes will draw attention to the work and message of Safe at Play, which has a tagline that reads, “Children are irreplaceable. Keep me safe!” The organization has named Genesis 43:9, as its mission verse: “I myself will guarantee his safety; you can hold me personally responsible for him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him here before you, I will bear the blame before you all my life.”
Remembered as a joyful and loving child, “Tyrah,” as she was called, loved to sing, dance and write journal entries. She participated in Rockdale Gymnastics, Girl Scouts and soccer at Rockdale Youth Soccer Association. She attended Victory Community Church and was active in Jumpstart Kids.
“As a Girl Scout, Tyrah promised on her honor ‘to serve God and my country, to help people at all times and to live by the Girl Scout law,’” Mrs. DeBruhl said. “Our little princess’ life was short, but we hope to make her legacy eternal by fulfilling her promise, bringing awareness and effecting change.
“ … I’m doing this for her and to keep her memory alive and for everyone to know she didn’t die in vain.”