By: Brianne Merchant
Hours after the tragic mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Alfredo Alvarado watched the news waiting to hear from the Alhadeff family to find out if his daughter’s soccer teammate, Alyssa, was safe. As time went by, he knew things weren’t going to get better.
After learning the devastating news that Alyssa was one of the 17 victims, Alvarado, a sales and marketing executive with a nonprofit organization, was personally motivated to make sure something like this would never happen again. He enlisted the help of two of his friends: Thomas Jahnes, of Hollywood, and Rene Zaldivar, of Pompano Beach to create the nonprofit The Parkland Project where they asked themselves the question: ‘What would have prevented this from happening?’
Through constant communication and consensus-building, the three of them performed research and found successful approaches already taking place in the public health system, specifically by treating violence as a contagious disease, as well as a public health issue. They partnered with Cure Violence, an international non-governmental organization that looks at violence as an epidemic; a disease that can be cured, and applies scientific approaches to prevent it.
“This could save lives,” said Alvarado. “When I look at the data and research from other places where public health research has been used, the results have had huge reductions in violence by applying these techniques.”
On May 27, student activist David Hogg invited Alvarado for lunch to meet Hunter Pollack, Emma Gonzalez, Andrew Pollack, Ryan Petty and Patrick Petty.
Alvarado said he was introduced to Hogg the day before and he was very interested in The Parkland Project. “This is very nonpartisan,” he said. “This is something everyone can get behind.”
Currently, they are working on a project to get a scientific assessment of Broward County. The first step will be bringing in a team of experts, who will spend several weeks assessing where the violence hotspots are in the county, along with resources available to the public such as law enforcement, social services and mental health providers. They will then use the assessment to create a program to decrease violence.
How schools fit into the specific plan for the community will be determined during the assessment process. Alvarado is hopeful they can have Cure Violence start within the next 30 days.
The assessment of Broward County is estimated to cost about $50,000. To help fund this, they’ve been focusing on educating officials, including Broward County commissioner Michael Udine and Parkland Mayor Christine Hunschofsky, as well as sharing their story with corporations to gain potential donors. They are also accepting donations on their website.
“We know what the cost of doing nothing is,” said Alvarado. “A financial investment is required for this initiative to be effectively delivered. But what is it worth to avoid the next senseless and tragic act of mass violence? When you put things in perspective, this is a comparatively inexpensive proposition.”
Those interested in learning more about The Parkland Project and getting involved by providing financial or volunteer support can visit the organization at www.theparklandproject.org.
Brianne Merchant is a junior studying journalism at Florida Gulf Coast University. She started journalism her freshman year at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and has been writing ever since. She also works as a Peer Educator and Resident Assistant in college.