By Patti Roth
CIty & Shore Magazine
In Boca Raton, a fifth-grader started a donation drive for backpacks and school supplies. A 16-year-old performer recruited friends and put on a show that raised about $5,000. And in Davie, about 100 teens from dozens of high schools showed up on a weekend to be trained to register voters.
From sweet notes on painted rocks to well-organized fundraisers and no-nonsense political action, South Florida students are rallying in support of their peers in Parkland.
For some it’s beyond a project. It’s a mission.
Daniella Ellison, 17, is among throngs of students shifting from regular routines to organize public events, distribute petitions and form partnerships with other students.
“This tragedy unfolded in our own backyards and to our own friends,” says Ellison, a junior at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale. “After what had happened, it is impossible for me to sit here and continue on with my life as if nothing happened. I knew immediately that I had to do something to make sure something like this never happens again to anyone’s child, sibling, friend or teacher.”
When Stoneman Douglas students returned to school after the shooting, they were welcomed with an outpouring of warmth that included upbeat artwork, posters and banners, many with personal, hand-written notes.
Some of the messages apparently were sent via stones. A post on a school’s Twitter feed in February said, “Art students throughout BCPS r painting rocks with special messages & pics of support for the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High. They will be placed around the grounds of MSD 4 students to find, and do with as they please…keep them, or put them back 4 others.”
About 300 students at The Weiss School in Palm Beach Gardens pitched in with colorful drawings. “The art teacher at [Stoneman Douglas] asked for works to be sent to their school so when the kids came back, the walls would be full of color and positive messages,” says Weiss School visual arts teacher David Tripp. “I loved the idea, so all my kids from 3 years old to eighth grade created beautiful butterflies adding notes of encouragement.”
In Boca Raton, Tinka Ellington-Hooper and her fifth-grade daughter Sophia organized an effort, in partnership with other Saint Andrew’s School families and a Girl Scout troop, to supply new backpacks for some of the Stoneman-Douglas students who left theirs behind the day of the shooting. “On the day Sophia came up with the idea, she even asked me if a 10-year-old fifth-grader could do something useful in this situation and I told her no matter what age you are you can help and do some good,” Ellington-Hooper says.
The mom and daughter also ordered a banner, which was signed by third-, fourth- and fifth-graders. The effort sparked other acts of generosity, Ellington-Hooper says, such as that by the owner of Pompano Beach Sign Company, who refused payment for that banner and others banners they made for Stoneman Douglas.
Plenty of South Florida schools initiated fund-raising projects, including selling T-shirts emblazoned with such statements as “We Stand With Douglas.” Various shirt designs incorporate the Stoneman Douglas burgundy hue and eagle mascot.
Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton is behind Steps for Stoneman, a 5-kilometer walk, with funds to go toward a new freshman building at Stoneman Douglas or in whatever other way the money is needed, according to an FAU spokeswoman.
Mason Pace, a junior at Saint Andrew’s School in Boca Raton, worked with his parents to produce Concert for Douglas, which featured his own alternative rock band along with an assortment of other bands, solo artists and choruses from South Florida. Ticket sales and donations netted about $5,000, which are earmarked for the Stoneman Douglas Victims Fund. Students at various other schools, including Pine Crest School and American Heritage School, also are working on shows in support of Douglas. Jackson Harbour, a musician, producer and musical theater student in 10th grade at American Heritage, volunteered to produce a benefit concert, which is expected to be in May.
Fund-raisers at St. Thomas Aquinas included a car wash for about four hours after school on a Friday.
“Our school has come together like never before,” says Grant Sabadash, a junior at St. Thomas. “I think doing everything we can to provide emotional or financial help has now become our duty as students. We see acts as terrible as this on the news and we read about, but now it happened in our own community, to our own peers,” he says. “School unity has reached its zenith.”
Political action is extremely important for some students. Students are urging lawmakers to enact policies for safer schools, stricter gun laws and improved resources for mental health.
Alexa Hui, a senior and student body president at St. Thomas Aquinas, is embarking on a broad effort to reach elected officials with thousands of postcards, signed by students, teachers and parents. Some students rode a bus to meet with lawmakers in Tallahassee. Others added lawmakers in Washington, D.C., to their political action agendas. Among them is Liam Asayag, 16, from NSU University School in Davie. He is also part of a group that established a new network of student ambassadors from various schools, who are working together on such projects as encouraging eligible students to register to vote.
“We just all need to be heard,” Asayag says. “Coming together we have a much larger voice than just one person.”