Play It Forward continues to grow

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BENNINGTON >> Remember. Celebrate. Live.

Those three words sum up the heart of Diane Peacock's mission with her Blue Lollipop Road Play It Forward weekend.

Remember where you came from, celebrate the ones you love, and live your life in the moment.

And now, for the fourth year running, Peacock is back in Bennington to spread the message of those three words again, and in the process continue to pay tribute to her soccer-playing friends who passed away too soon — Maria Greene and Brandy Brown.

But Play It Forward weekend has evolved into a lot more than what Peacock originally started with. While much of the details remain the same — a welcome back party at Ramunto's on Friday, the alumni soccer game today at Willow Park, and celebration drinks at Pangaea tonight — it is the crowd, and their stories, that have made Play it Forward something much, much bigger.

That hit home for Peacock this week when she attended the funeral of another close friend from high school, Kaitlin McLellan. McLellan was a constant presence at Play It Forward events in the past, and her presence was something Peacock grew to love seeing when she made her way back to Bennington.

Now, Play it Forward will honor McLellan, and the legacies of too many others that have passed away.

"I've always wanted to, and with the loss of Katie, I've been trying to curb [Play It Forward] from a super soccer-only [event], to have this event that is like a reunion weekend," said Peacock. "For it to be known as a weekend that other friends are home [who] don't live here."

And, slowly but surely, Peacock sees this dream come to fruition.

"I know people who come that didn't know Maria and Brandy," said Peacock. "I think some people, initially, didn't really feel comfortable — like they were invading the space of these tight, old friends. But they've trickled in a little bit. It's part of getting comfortable with the event going on more and more, and also a couple people who have been through bad losses. You know they're just there because they are having their own celebration of somebody and doing something about it. They might not say anything, but I just sort of know."

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Those stories shared are what keeps driving Peacock to put on Play It Forward. Peacock still lives in Charlotte, N.C., as a consultant, but in her spare time she is putting together the event. From designing T-shirts, securing event space and raising money for the Play It Forward Memorial Scholarship, Peacock does it all as a true volunteer. With the reactions she gets every year, coming back continues to be easier and easier.

At the heart of it all, though, remains the original purpose: Handing out a scholarship to a high school student to pursue a trip to somewhere outside of Bennington.

Peacock says that Play It Forward looks to give the scholarship to someone that embodies the "zest for life and awesomeness" that Greene and Brown had. But unlike the last three years, where the scholarship went specifically to a girls soccer player, Peacock has opened up the scholarship to more kids thanks to the help of Mount Anthony Union High School guidance counselors Eric Caron and Dan Lucy.

Now, all proceeds raised by Play It Forward will be donated to help with finances for two foreign trips that Caron and Lucy oversee — a trip to Nicaragua, and a school exchange program with students from France.

"Two of the scholarship winners have done the Nicaragua trip," said Peacock. "In talking with [Dan], we thought wouldn't it be great to pick that trip and disperse it between whichever kids are going, or maybe just one? That turned into a discussion with the French program about their exchange program."

Peacock said that Lucy will be at the soccer game to receive an initial "check" for the programs, although a final dollar amount will not be known until the middle of August. From there, the money will be held for distribution until the school trips are planned, and Caron and Lucy can figured out where the money is needed most.

"If it's some kid that's trying to kill themselves making money and is lacking $500, and the whole trip canceled or they can't go, that's just not going to happen," said Peacock.

Saturday's game will start at 2 p.m., and during halftime there will be a Lollipop Fun Run for the kids in attendance at the game. The event is $25 to play in the game, and the cost includes a BLR T-shirt. The public, though, is encouraged to come and watch the game. As Peacock stressed, Play It Forward weekend is about more than an alumni soccer game.

"I just created a platform for people to be able to come together and have some unity and perspective. That's what I wanted to create. If you want to celebrate in silence and not say anything about someone you are coming to hang out for, or if you just want to touch base with old friends to breathe some life into you a little bit, [that's fine]."

To learn more about Blue Lollipop Road, visit www.bluelollipoproad.com

Contact Geoff Smith at 802-447-7567, ext. 120.


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