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Leaves of Grace

Strong Kids Newsletter

He who plants a tree
Plants hope.

~ Lucy Larcom, Plant a Tree.

In a quiet moment in the middle of Grace Esposito’s last surgery in 2013, her mother, 13WHAM anchor Jennifer Johnson noticed a plaque on the wall. Like many other plaques that adorn the walls of UR Medicine’s Golisano Children’s Hospital, it simply recognized one of the hospital’s many donors. But for Jennifer and her husband Vinnie Esposito, director of the region’s Economic Development Council, that plaque embodied all the community support that helped the hospital give them 16 months with their critically ill daughter.

GraceGrace, who had a severe congenital diaphragmatic hernia, died the next day, but the family remains grateful for the support of the community. That’s why they teamed up with area Kiwanis clubs to raise funds to name a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) room in the new Golisano Children’s Hospital, which will open this summer.

The family didn’t stop there. They then partnered with 13WHAM to name a garden in Grace’s honor. The $350,000 healing garden is on the east side of the new hospital, slipped in between buildings to be a place of respite and hope for families. Grace’s family wants her garden to be an environment filled with “grace” – exuding comfort, inspiration and encouragement and to let families and patients know they are not alone in their struggles.

Grace's GardenThe focal point of the new garden will be the “Tree of Love,” which, like that plaque near the surgical suite, will show the community’s support for children and families in the hospital. Donors had the opportunity to sponsor and engrave leaves on the tree, butterflies around it and benches that will give respite near it.

“I found great comfort in seeing the names of supporters. When all the odds were against Grace, it made me feel like I had the love of the community on our side. It clicked that their generosity was providing the facility and the equipment that drew in the fantastic staff – a trifecta that was working to save her life. It’s support you don’t forget,” Jennifer said.

Garden MapIn November, Jennifer and 13WHAM ran a series of stories about special donors to the children’s hospital, culminating in a day of fundraising, live on the ABC and FOX affiliates to help support Grace’s Garden. Children’s hospital supporters and staffers manned the phones while Jennifer explained how people could support the garden through the Tree of Love. Donors called in and donated leaves engraved in honor or in memory of loved ones. They had messages of hope and support engraved on butterflies, large and small.

In all, the event raised $86,000 toward the goal of $350,000 for the garden, and it fulfilled a wish for the Espositos — to give other families the support and hope they needed so much when Grace was sick.

The fundraiser has already sold more than 100 leaves, a dozen small butterflies, nine large butterflies and five benches. To make a gift of any amount or to learn more about how you can help or support Grace’s Garden and the Golisano Children’s Hospital, please visit or contact:

Betsy Findlay

You can support the Grace’s Garden fundraiser. Visit or call Betsy Findlay at (585) 273-5933
• engraved leaf: $250 donation
• engraved small butterfly: $750 donation
• engraved large butterfly: $1,500 donation
• engraved bench: $5,000 donation