“When she sees stuff of daddy, she usually gets sad so sometimes I see her and then I go and make her feel better,” Ella DiNardo said.
Eight-year-old Ella has an instinct to comfort far beyond her age.
“[Family means] people are supporting you and people love you,” she said.
That's what she, along with her siblings, Gwendolyn and Marc, learned after years of healing from a tragic loss.
“It was the morning of July 16, 2009,” Mary DiNardo remembered. “As I was on my way out the door, all these police cars just pulled up in front of my house, that’s the worst feeling.”
Mary DiNardo's husband, Marc, a member of Jersey City's elite Emergency Services Unit, was shot in the face during a raid.
“We rushed to the hospital, which was the slowest ride of my life,” she said. "He was in surgery so we were put into a waiting room.”
He died five days later but his organs were donated in order to help many others.
“I was actually able to meet the heart recipient, he was purple heart recipient, a great man,” she remembered. "He let me listen to Marc’s heartbeat and it was overwhelming.”
She immediately put her children into therapy, to them help them understand why daddy wasn't coming home.
“They’re doing much better, we still have our bad days,” Mary said.
Web extra: Gwen explains a painting she made in school
They laugh now, a lot, with a little help from these guys. Say hello to Hamlet, part of Mini Horse Heroes, a foundation in memory of P.O. Ken Tietjen, who was killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
“Our first priority is to work with children and families of first responders like the DiNardos who have lost a family member in the line of duty,” Jennifer Paldino, trainer and handler, explained.
They come to comfort, play and just have fun!
“It’s fun to be walking Hamlet," Gwendolyn, the eldest child, smiled.
But these aren't your typical ponies.
“They go through two years of special training to make sure they’re used to all different kinds of situations, walking on different floors, and different noises,” Paldino said.
The mini horses visits homes, hospitals, police and fire stations and community programs. And each place, they make a difference.
The DiNardos have come a long way, Mary has found love again and the kids have a new baby brother. And while Marc has been gone for nearly seven years, he's never far from their hearts and minds.
Produced by: Kim Pestalozzi