By Jill Fox
As the one year commemoration of Marjory Stoneman Douglas’ 17 fallen eagles draws near, the families continue their fight for the safety of our children.
Heading to Washington D.C. on Tuesday to meet with members of congress and the senate to promote the three school safety initiatives they would like to see passed into law, Stand with Parkland is on a mission.
The organization’s goal is to cover the three pillars of school safety: campus security, improved mental health programs and responsible firearms ownership.
Founded by all 17 families who lost someone on February 14, they joined forces to take action on school violence so that no other families would have to experience the pain that they had to endure.
“One thing we want to do is get people to have discussions, listen to one another, and find a consensus and take that agreement, bring it to the policy makers and have laws enacted that help keep people safe,” said Stand With Parkland President, Tony Montalto, father of Gina.
A captain with United Airlines close to 30 years, Montalto and his family have lived in Parkland for 12. He said that it’s a great community, and if he could take out one horrible day, it would be wonderful.
He explained that the families all created Stand with Parkland together. Everybody wanted to do something.
“I was voted in as the leader, but it’s about all of us,” said Montalto.
Within the organization, everybody has a voice, but functionally to make things operate, they have a seven member panel.
Tom Hoyer, father of Luke, is the treasurer, and Phil Schentrup, father of Carmen, is the secretary, while the rest of the families serve on an advisory council.
Early on, the 17 families realized that they had a voice when they spoke out together. However, they were grieving, and weren’t quite ready to move forward. Montalto said that it took them some time to find their consensus position and decide what they wanted to do.
Some of the families have traveled to Washington, D.C. on multiple occasions. They were instrumental in lobbying for the MSD Public safety Act, that passed in March 2018. They helped push two acts over the finish line by writing letters to the House and Senate, the STOP School violence act, which gives federal dollars to schools and the Fix NICS Act, that helped plug holes in the background check system.
Although Stand with Parkland doesn’t have a set meeting schedule, they get together as needed and Montalto said that there is work going on all the time. While some of the families are more active than others, they all agree on those key factors of securing campuses, better mental-health screenings and programs for the people who need help, and responsible firearms ownership.
“Without looking at all three of these components, we are not going to solve this uniquely American tragedy of mass shootings in schools,” said Montalto.
What separates Stand with Parkland from most groups is that they are nonpartisan. They’re working with all levels of government, and they have a strong message: to keep children and staff members safe at school.
Now, they are just trying to build their membership base and their finances. A few local businesses have provided sponsorships, but the organization is in further need of fundraising efforts.
Some ways to get involved are to join Stand with Parkland, follow them on social media, or provide a small donation each month. They also have an engagement tool on the site which automatically populates a petition to their appropriate senator and congressmen based on ones address.
For the commemoration on February 14, there will be nothing official from the organization.
Montalto said that day is not about political action or causes. It’s dedicated to the 17 wonderful people who were lost. All of the families know that they are blessed to have had so much support from a loving community, and they appreciate everything that everybody has done.
“We need to remember the victims, the people they were, the causes they believed in, and just remember that it came at a very high cost.”
Jill Fox is an Emmy Award-winning writer and producer. She is currently a Senior Account Director at Lon Haber & Co., a leading full-service public relations firm. Fox worked at NBC Miami for eight years after graduating from the University of Miami. She lives in Parkland with her husband, Brian and two children.