Memorial service honors former student

KEILA TORRES Staff writer
Article Last Updated: 09/18/2007 11:49:47 PM EDT
BRIDGEPORT — There was a mix of emotions Tuesday afternoon as friends of Jennifer Blackwood, who died earlier this summer, gathered to dedicate a garden in her memory at Housatonic Community College, where she had been a student.

There were tears and smiles during the half-hour long ceremony for the woman many described as their second mother.
Her classmates in the college's Occupational Therapy Assistant program organized the event in honor of the 54-year-old Jamaican native.

"I was back home when she passed away, so I never had a chance to say goodbye," said Melani Jacobs, 23, an international student from Namibia who now lives in Wilton. "It still feels unreal, like I'm going to see her again."

Blackwood came to the U.S. from Jamaica in 1996. She started the OTA program last fall. During the memorial service, several students and friends stepped up and shared their memories and thoughts about Blackwood, who they all described as a smiling, loving, mother figure. "Jennifer, your spirit, your determination, your kindness, and your caring love has touched us all, especially me. Thank you for blessing us with the time you spent here. God bless you," said Charlie Saunders.

Blackwood's daughter, Simone, was present at the memorial. Blackwood's husband, Kenneth Sr., and her son, Kenneth Jr., were unable to attend. Members of the Student Occupational Therapy Assistant (SOTA) club, in connection with the Early Childhood Laboratory School, HCC's day-care center, are in the process of planting the "sensory" garden in her memory. A time capsule containing letters and memories of Blackwood compiled by her friends was buried in the garden Tuesday.

"In one of the programs we did with the elderly, she used flowers to help and soothe them," said Lisa Smith, president of the SOTA club. "Jennifer loved children and flowers."

The garden is meant to pay tribute to Blackwood and to serve as a learning tool for the children who attend the day care, said Smith. The OTA students created the concept for the garden and, with the help of HCC personnel and the maintenance team, did all the gardening work themselves.

They chose flowers and plants that appeal to the senses of smell, taste, sight, and touch.
During the memorial service, Smith said that children from the day-care center would be able to learn patience and responsibility by caring for the garden. She also said they will have a new way to learn numbers and how to tell time because of a sun dial in the garden that was made by Carole Osborn, SOTA club treasurer. Because Blackwood passed away over the summer and was buried in Jamaica, her classmates said they did not have a chance to get closure. A sobbing Jacobs remembered the last time she hugged Blackwood and said she never expected not to hug her, or see her, again. She said she liked the idea of planting a garden in her friend's memory.

"I love the fact that it's flowers we remember her with, because that's absolutely who she was," she said.