Gina Montalto and Jaime Guttenberg volunteering with The Friendship Initiative.

By: Sharon Aron Baron

In memory of Jaime Guttenberg and Gina Montalto, two volunteers that lost their lives in the Parkland school shooting, The Friendship Initiative has created a scholarship in their names.

Jaime and Gina were both volunteers for the organization that connects children with special needs and their peers, before they were tragically killed.  In recognition and memory of them, The Friendship Initiative will be hosting a gala event where a scholarship will be awarded to eligible graduating high school seniors and college or trade school students who have volunteered with as well as to eligible families of kids with special needs participating in their programs.

“Jaime and Gina personified the mission of The Friendship Initiative, which is to unite individuals of all abilities through friendship, thus redefining the concept of community,” said Jeb Niewood, President of the organization.

Jaime Guttenberg was a three-year volunteer and joined along with her older brother Jesse. She started as a very young middle school student, however, Niewood said he quickly came to realize that Jaime was an old soul and had a maturity, self confidence and compassion of a much older person.

Jaime spent most of her three years in the program with her special friend Sydney, a beautiful young lady who happens to have autism.

“Jaime and Sydney were like two peas in a pod who were not only friends in our program but friends outside our program as well. Their smiles lit up our room and all of our lives,” said Niewood.

Like Jaime, Gina also joined The Friendship Initiative as a middle school student.

“Gina loved our art program and she quickly formed a bond with her special little friend, Gianfranco,” he said.

Gina was such a positive force who possessed a natural ability to reach out and help others. She had an infectious smile and always looked at what she had in common with her special friend rather than what their differences may have been. He said she was a talented artist and took great pride in helping Gianfranco express himself through the art that they created.

“It was an act of pure love,” he said.

The gala event entitled, An Evening With Friends, will be held on Saturday, June 2, 2018 at the Signature Grand, 6900 West State Road 84, Davie, FL 33317.

A cocktail hour and the viewing of silent auction items will start at 6:30 p.m. with dinner and the formal program starting at 7:30 p.m.

“Their loss was a staggering blow to all of us who knew and loved them,” said Niewood. “It is the reason behind the gala event that The Friendship Initiative is holding.”

The Friendship Initiative’s An Evening With Friends Gala, programs, volunteering and giving opportunities please contact Jeb Niewood at: Jeb@thefriendshipinitiative.org or call Jeb at 954-464-6078. To buy tickets, sponsor, make a donation, or learn more about The Friendship Initiative please visit its web page at: TheFriendshipInitiative.

Sharon Aron Baron is the Editor of Talk Media and writer for Parkland Talk. She has been covering Parkland news since 2012. Parkland Talk was created to provide News, Views and Entertainment for the residents of Parkland.