Washington Twp. parents turn grief into playgrounds

Ohio parks group names Gargs as Citizens of the Year.

In 2006, Arti and Hemant Garg’s 6-year-old daughter, Yukta, was killed in a car crash as she was leaving the Washington Twp. Rec Center after a day at summer camp.

In the 13 years since, they have transformed their grief into action, founding the Yukta Garg Memorial Foundation, raising $50,000 through a series of Bollywood concerts, and working hand-in-hand with township staff to establish three separate playgrounds.

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The Gargs have been recognized as Citizens of the Year by the Ohio Parks and Recreation Association, which will honor the couple at the association’s annual banquet held Tuesday in Sandusky. The award makes them feel that their efforts to give back to the community in the name of their daughter have been appreciated.

“We did not expect it when we were notified that we were going to be recognized by the OPRA Citizens of the year. We were nevertheless delighted that our ongoing efforts to help and giving back to the community since the horrible tragedy being recognized,” Hemant Garg told the Dayton Daily News. “We are grateful and humbled by it. This recognition is due to the love, support, generosity of the Dayton community, Washington Twp. staff and the trustees.”

To raise funds for the playgrounds, the Gargs in 2007 began organizing a series of Bollywood Galas. The annual galas attract hundreds of people and have included performances by renowned entertainers from the Bollywood film industry in Mumbai, India, and also respected local artists.

The Gargs direct all aspects of the three-hour galas, from booking acts to designing graphics, renting equipment, and coordinating audio visuals.

“We wanted to relate Yukta’s memory with happy things and what she used to love,” Arti Garg explained. “When we see kids playing, making friends, making their own sweet memories, laughing, running around, we see our daughter.”

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Inspired by Yukta’s love of butterflies, the Butterfly Playground was the first to be designed and installed. It was followed by the Nature Sounds Playground that reflects her love of music and includes six large outdoor instruments.

In 2019, the preschool playground celebrated its grand opening in the Rec West building. The play space, called Yukta’s Garden, is protected from the elements, but offers an outdoor neighborhood feeling. The idea was that it would celebrate her passions and be a gift to other children in the community.

Township Recreation Director Mark Metzger said the Gargs are an inspiration to everyone.

“Because of their activism and altruism, three recreation playgrounds have been created in Yukta’s memory and reverberate with the sound of children’s laughter,” he said.

In December, the Montgomery County Township Association presented the Gargs with its Community Impact Award for the same efforts that they have displayed toward the residents in Washington Twp.

Hemant Garg said the couple’s foundation is doing fine and they continue to do their signature fundraising event annually.

“Over the years, it has raised over $51,000 and helped create three playground pods,” he said. “We will continue to raise money that will be utilized to benefit the recreational opportunities for youth in our community.”

The next annual Bollywood Gala returns on March 1.

The Citizens of the Year Awards were judged by a panel of parks and recreation professionals from around Ohio.

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