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A Final Home for Forgotten Babies

updated 03/27/2006 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/27/2006 AT 01:00 AM EST

Crystal Hope was found on a frigid night, propped up against a tree in Brooklyn. Holly Hope was wrapped in a tablecloth covered in holly. Grace Hope looked like a little angel. Tim Jaccard tells their stories as he walks through the Island of Hope, a plot within a Long Island cemetery where the 56-year-old father of three has taken it upon himself to give burials to newborn babies found dead and abandoned by their parents. The babies' stories are wrenching, and Jaccard tears up as he recounts them. The deaths of "every single one of these kids is extremely difficult," he says. "I'm human. It hurts."

So far Jaccard has buried 80 babies here, each of them linked by the last name he gives them—Hope —and the tragic facts of their brutally short lives. The burials are not simple affairs: Each child gets carnations, a tiny white coffin lined with satin, a teddy bear and volunteer bagpipers to escort them on their final journey. The funerals are held in a church nearest to where the baby was found in case "the mother wants to come," Jaccard says. "Maybe it will help her heal." Granite headstones with brass plaques mark the burial sites, each shared by two babies. Says Jaccard: "I want to give the babies some dignity."

His mission began nearly a decade ago, when Jaccard, a medic with the Nassau County Police Department, was dispatched to a courthouse. "Baby, not breathing" was the report. When Jaccard arrived, he witnessed a scene that haunts him even today: a newborn girl drowned in the bowl of a toilet. "I lost it," he says. "I just started crying in that stall." Jaccard's own daughter was pregnant at the time, which only added to his incomprehension of how anyone could commit such a crime.

In the months that followed, Jaccard came across three similar deaths —a baby wrapped in a plastic bag, a child found buried in the backyard of a residence, a child in a recycling bin—and his commitment to them began to take shape. By applying to a family court judge, Jaccard won legal guardianship of the bodies and bought plots for them at the Cemetery of the Holy Rood in Westbury, N.Y. Typically, the babies are given a first name by the police officer or civilian who finds them; Jaccard came up with the idea of adding Hope to the name, he says, because "there's got to be hope for this generation of kids, there's got to be a way we can rescue them."

Jaccard's work has expanded far beyond just burials—he wants to get at the root of the problem, before the babies are abandoned. His AMT Children of Hope Foundation (the AMT stands for Ambulance Medical Technicians), using funds gathered from donations and corporate sponsors, pays $2,500 for counseling, prenatal care and hospital fees for expectant mothers to help them through the entire adoption process. In addition, the foundation works to publicize safe haven laws that allow parents to drop off newborns at hospitals or firehouses without fear of prosecution (see box). Although Jaccard in no way condones parents who abandon their children, he says he understands some of the factors that influence them. "You take a woman who is pregnant with an unwanted pregnancy, suffers from depression and has no support system whatsoever. I think a lot of the time they don't know what to do," he says.

Jaccard comes to the Island of Hope a few times a month after his overnight shift, often sitting on a bench and thinking of his own grandchildren. At his home he has folders on each child, with death certificates, newspaper clippings and letters he received from the public. "This is their picture book, this is their lives," he says. "They're never really gone."

Still, Jaccard's wife of 22 years, Aedan, a retired nurse, insists her husband rarely gets depressed himself. "He's saddened sometimes. We all are," says Aedan. "But he never gets in a slump." After planning his next fund-raiser and the funeral for a little boy named Michael, Jaccard remains focused on the future. "You can change the world," he says. "Never think you cannot."

For more information, go to www.amtchildrenofhope.com, or call 877-796-HOPE

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