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When Aidan and Cian Piscitelli's grandfather was diagnosed with cancer, their mother searched for a way to help the boys cope and come to terms with the diagnosis.

She turned to something the boys, ages 13 and 11, respectively, and their grandfather had connected with on multiple occasions: nature and birds.

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Their grandfather, Bradford Collins, a former Outdoor School teacher, took the boys on nature hikes and bird watching outings, inspiring a love of birds in his grandchildren.

"The boys were watching him struggle and were powerless to help him, so I thought they could use something to work on, in his honor," Shelley Fenlon, the boys' mother, said, adding, "Toward the end, when he was getting very sick, we were like, 'Let's create a bird garden.'"

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In his memory, the Piscitellis and Fenlon plan to create the Bradford Collins Healing Garden and Bird Sanctuary near the entrance of Bear Branch Nature Center in Westminster.

The garden will feature native plants to attract birds, and the family hopes to include a water fountain feature and wireless camera bird box for bluebirds, Fenlon said. A few plantings will take place in early September and again in the spring.

The project is funded by donations, and the group has already collected $2,765 through a YouCaring fundraising page. The publishing company Inner Traditions/Bear & Co., which has published several of Collins' wife's books, made a $1,000 donation.

Cian's soccer team, Central Carroll Soccer Club CC United U-12, as well as Boy Scout Troop 395 from Finksburg, will help with the labor needed to bring the project to fruition, Fenlon said.

Though the Bear Branch Nature Center frequently receives donations in honor of deceased loved ones, creating a memorial garden is relatively uncommon, said naturalist Dawn Harry, adding that the planned space will likely enhance visitors' experiences.

"Having a garden designed to be bird-friendly means the center will attract more species, so everyone will be able to see a wider variety of birds," Harry said.

Aidan hopes to draw bluebirds, cardinals, songbirds and cedar waxwings, Collins' favorite bird, to the garden. Together with Mary Hoy, Carroll County Public Schools' former environmental resource teacher, the Piscitellis and Fenlon will select plants specifically to attract birds.

"We haven't planned everything out yet, but I'm hoping that it will make my Pappy really happy and everyone that visits," Aidan said. "We really miss him and hope he likes it when it's built."

Collins died on Aug. 2, after having been diagnosed with throat cancer 16 months earlier, Fenlon said.

Before his death, the boys shared their bird garden plans with him, giving him a chance to watch the project begin to take wing. His wife plans to come up in the fall to help her grandchildren's effort and plant with them.

And though "Pappy" is no longer alive, Fenlon hopes the bird garden serves as a tribute to his memory for his grandchildren, who she characterized as being "total wildlife kids," thanks to his impact on their lives.

"You'll see my boys now just reading through bird books in free time," Fenlon said. "Any bird Aidan sees, he can tell you the species — he knows practically all of the local ones. And that totally came from his grandfather."

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For more information

Visit http://www.facebook.com/Bradfordclarkcollins to read about the Bradford Collins Healing Garden and Bird Sanctuary and to find a link to donate to the project.

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