'Everyone deserves a stone' - Dalton teen raises money to buy headstones for babies

Gael Alejandro Brito was buried at West Hill Cemetery in Dalton. His mom is grateful to hear of the project to buy headstones for babies. (Image: WTVC)

A teenager from Dalton is making it her mission to honor babies buried at West Hill Cemetery.

Amanda Jones, 19, grew up helping to take care of the cemetery. The section where babies are buried always touched her heart the most.

"When I was little my grandmother would take me to the cemetery and we would clean up all the little toys that were left there," Jones said. "Since it's in a little rutted area in the cemetery a whole bunch of stuff washes down into the area with the babies, it gets real messy."

There are 67 babies buried there who do not have a permanent marker, says Terrell Stallings with West Hill Cemetery. The Infants Gravestone Fund was started to make sure all babies get a headstone.

"This is the baby section," Stallings said. "Families that don't have the money to purchase lots then we furnish them a space."

And now, they'll also have a headstone.

This is welcome news to Jessica Bilo. Her son Gael Alejandro Brito was buried there last month. He was three months old when he died from several diseases including muscular dystrophy. Jessica says she has a lot of wonderful memories of her son.

"My favorite was when I got to take care of him on my own."

Her family is working to raise the money needed for a permanent headstone for Gael. The new project will help mothers like her.

"I've never really thought about the impact it would have on the families and I can't imagine how amazing it must feel to finally have the recognition that their children deserve," Jones said.

Dalton's Public Works Director Benny Dunn says more than $3,000 has been collected since the fund started several weeks ago. He's happy to see the younger generation stepping up.

"That tells you a lot about the community of Dalton, Georgia," Dunn said. "We are proud of our folks here."

The headstones will be made by D & S Monuments in Dalton. Owner Mark Howard says the employees are volunteering their time to make it happen.

"I think everyone deserves something," Howard said. "They were a human being and I just feel in my heart it's the right thing to do for the children."

Each headstone takes about 40 minutes to engrave. It's a labor of love for Mark and his team.

"It touches my heart. Going to that cemetery is one of the saddest places to have to go, to see all the babies that didn't live." Howard said.

For Jessica, it means the world to know there are people she's never even met who care so much about her baby.

"I miss him so much... I love him."

Donations can be sent to the City of Dalton at 300 W. Waugh St. Each gravestone costs $65. Any money raised over the amount currently needed will go toward future headstones.

Howard says the first of the headstones will be ready to be placed in about six weeks. Jones plans to come back home during her college Spring break to see it happen.

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