Five-year-old Maddie James died in 2011 from a brain tumor just two short months before a diagnosis, and she was remembered Thursday in an emotional ceremony at the Ocean Institute in Dana Point.
Since her death, friends and family continue to mourn, as well as celebrate her life. In 2011, famous artist Wyland created a mural at her school, in her name. Maddie's hand-print was added to the colorful mural and fellow classmates, family, and teachers added their own forms of creativity to the tribute still hanging in the halls of the school.
On Thursday, many of these same folks gathered to kick off the construction of The Maddie James Seaside Learning Center in a private ceremony that also included key donors and representatives from the Ocean Institute, The Maddie James Foundation, and local government including , and Dana Point Mayor Lara Anderson.
Click here for the video of the event.
Those invited observed the symbolic groundbreaking ceremony overlooking the aquatic site where The Maddie James Seaside Learning Center will reside. From the construction barge and crane situated adjacent to the Ocean Institute's current dock, the project was kicked off by raising The Maddie James Foundation flag along side the Ocean Institute’s flag.
"Creating a first-class oceanography and marine science educational facility has been a goal of the Ocean Institute for more than 10 years. The Maddie James Foundation has been a crucial partner to not only make our dream a reality, but also the dream of Maddie – a brave little girl who left us too soon," said Dan Stetson, president and CEO of the Ocean Institute.
"The state-of-the-art facility combined with top-notch education programming and staff will enrich all those that visit the Ocean Institute."
"The Ocean Institute was an incredibly meaningful place for Maddie," said Maddie's mother and president of The Maddie James Foundation. "Today's ceremony is an important milestone in the journey to share Maddie's love of the ocean with children for generations to come."
Maddie's father Collie James, who also serves as the treasurer of The Maddie James Foundation, said: "It was amazing last year to witness the miraculous support The Maddie James Foundation received. The community continues to embrace our ongoing mission to support the wonderful programs at the Ocean Institute and promote ocean-minded educational experiences for children of all backgrounds. We are endlessly moved by the community's generosity and look forward to greeting visitors soon at The Maddie James Seaside Learning Center."
The Maddie James Seaside Learning Center will consist of a series of learning stations to provide an immersion-style education about ocean life and preservation, and will include an ocean science landing or dock and a historic maritime pier. Both facilities will be built right "on the water" in Dana Point harbor, adjacent to the Ocean Institute's site. The goal is to introduce thousands of K-12 students and public visitors to current and emerging issues in oceanography, environmental science, and maritime history.
The facility is expected to be completed in the spring.
For more information and to make a donation to The Maddie James Foundation, please visit maddiejamesfoundation.org/. Follow The Maddie James Foundation on Twitter and on Facebook.