By Jill Fox
A Parkland native passionate about connecting people through meaningful experiences was nominated for the LIFEchanger Award by WPLG Local 10.
The special award recognizes a hometown hero who has significantly impacted a person’s life at a pivotal point.
Samantha Novick has accomplished just that. As the president of The Friendship Journey, which unites individuals through lasting friendships, Novick is passionate about providing opportunities for people of all abilities.
One of her biggest advocates, Lisa Smith, an adult living with special needs, nominated her for the LIFEchanger Award. Smith said she found joy, comfort, and purpose through The Friendship Journey’s virtual summer camp program.
Novick has spent most of her life in Parkland. The 2008 Marjory Stoneman Douglas graduate and speech-language pathologist living in Coconut Creek feels communication is something all humans deserve the right to do. She helps people through her private practice, Bridge Therapy, which she runs with her husband, Jason. Her mother, Sharon Cutler, teaches the DECA program at MSD, and her father, Ken Cutler, has been a Parkland City Commissioner since 2016.
Novick said the MSD tragedy impacted her family. Two of her volunteers were killed in the massacre, and the organization tries to honor Gina Montalto and Jamie Guttenberg in every way possible.
“We really try to shine their light in everything that we do,” she said.
For this particular initiative, they partnered with Dylan’s Wings of Change in Connecticut. Dylan was a six-year-old victim of the Sandy Hook Massacre in 2012. His father started a nonprofit in his name with a mission to create courage and compassion and help young people become empathetic leaders of the future.
Right away, the organizations shared a meaningful connection from what the two communities have been through.
“We immediately knew we wanted to work together; we just didn’t know exactly how,” said Novick, “Then COVID happened.”
With the challenges for people with disabilities being amplified by the current circumstances, they decided to collaborate to create a free virtual summer camp for teens and adults with physical or neurological differences called Camp Wings of Friendship.
From the Parkland and Sandy Hook communities, they honored those who lost their lives to violence and hatred through acts of love and kindness. The camp motto was “look for the good,” and together, they focused on how even during dark times, people can find and create silver linings.
Each week, the campers, both local and from Connecticut, focused on a different theme. They even took part in a Gina day, a Jaime day, and a Dylan day, where they wore each child’s favorite colors and participated in some of their favorite activities.
“It felt really special to continue their legacies,” said Novick.
From a virtual tour of the Broward Center for Performing Arts to virtual field trips to a farm, Novick said the camp was made special through their incredible partners.
“We’re in the midst of another tragedy, and I think it’s really important that in these dark times, we still continue to be the helpers that we can be.”
The Friendship Journey already has plans in place to continue working with Dylan’s Wings of Change.
From September 21 to October 30, they will have joint virtual programs with free activities for all ages and all abilities every weekday. High school students will have the opportunity for service hours.
From now until September 13, vote here for Samantha.
“I’m really humbled by the nomination,” said Novick, “The real award is that she felt included and loved during this difficult time.”
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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.