By Jill Fox
In memory of Jaime Guttenberg and Gina Montalto, two community volunteers who lost their lives in the Parkland school shooting, a local organization awards scholarships in their names.
Both Jaime and Gina were volunteers for The Friendship Journey, a nonprofit that connects children with special needs and their peers.
This year’s recipients were Eliza Grunstein from Coral Glades High School, Kayla Myers from American Heritage School, and Emma Summers and Daniel Tabares from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
The Friendship Journey provides scholarships to eligible graduating high school seniors and college or trade school students who have volunteered with kids with special needs who participate in their programs.
Samantha Novick, President of The Friendship Journey, said the recipients uphold the values of empathy, kindness, inclusion, and compassion that meant so much to Jaime and Gina.
“We are so excited to share we will be giving a total of $10,000 in scholarships to these incredibly deserving winners as they embark on this next chapter of their journeys,” she said.
Since eighth grade, Grunstein has been a volunteer with The Friendship Journey and the Paley Institute, which provides care to individuals with joint and bone conditions. Jaime dreamed of working as a pediatric physical therapist.
“As a friend of Jaime’s, Eliza continues to honor her by sharing the path with her friends of all abilities,” said Novick.
Grunstein, who will be attending Florida State University, said she hopes to become a doctor someday, so she can help as many people as possible and make enough money to regularly donate to charity.
Myers and Jaime shared a mutual love for supporting their friends with disabilities. After Jaime lost her life, Myers honored Jaime by dedicating herself to impactful work.
“In spending time with kids of every kind, I’ve learned not that we are all the same, but that our differences are what deserve to be celebrated,” she said.
Myers plans on attending college to obtain her bachelor’s degree on a pre-medical track at the University of Florida’s Honors Program where she plans to become a pediatric doctor.
Since seventh grade, Summers is one of their longest and most committed volunteers. She shared that The Friendship Journey has opened her eyes to many things, notably the lack of advocacy and change to support the disabled community.
After high school, Summers plans to major in communication sciences and disorders at Florida State University to become a speech-language pathologist.
Through this work, she hopes to continue to form connections and spread kindness and empower others to use their voices and live life to the fullest.
No stranger to adversity, Tabares was born with achondroplasia and has undergone numerous painful surgeries, and because of it, has endured bullying.
He often recalls a conversation with Jaime soon after one of his surgeries, as she was the only classmate who approached him with kindness and curiosity about his procedure.
Tabares said that he aspires to be a real-life superhero and role model like the Guttenbergs and Montaltos. While attending Florida Atlantic University, he will pursue psychology and communication sciences and disorders. He aspires to become a speech and language pathologist or a motivational speaker because he understands what it’s like to face adversity, be excluded, and be discriminated against for simply being himself.
Novick said, “Jaime and Gina are great souls, bringing us together again and again and inspiring us to create more goodness in the world.”
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- Jill Fox is an Emmy Award-winning writer and producer. She has worked in public relations and television for over 20 years. Fox lives in Parkland with her husband and their two children.
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