By Jill Fox
In memory of Jaime Guttenberg and Gina Montalto, two community volunteers who lost their lives in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school shooting, a local organization is awarding 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 are Gabriel Escobar from Coconut Creek High School, Emma Sugarman from JP Taravella High School, and Anthony Zurita and Jersey Roth from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Samantha Novick, President of The Friendship Journey, said the recipients exemplify kindness and compassion, which were qualities of Gina and Jaime.
“All four are really incredible people who have been involved with The Friendship Journey for many years and are committed to continuing to honor their legacies,” she said.
A part of The Friendship Journey since 2016, Gabriel Escobar is a talented artist who loved doing crafts and reading during “Reading with Friends.”
Though the next chapter after high school seems scary, Escobar knows he is not alone because his friends from The Friendship Journey will always be there for him. He plans to be part of the WOW program and then attend Culinary School.
Escobar plans to try to live his life with joy and love. He will continue volunteering at his local library to keep Gina’s light shining and at the animal shelter in honor of Jaime.
During her four years at The Friendship Journey, Jersey Roth has loved spending time with her friend, Francesca. “I am so happy that The Friendship Journey brought us together because she has made a huge impact in my life,” said Roth.
Roth credits The Friendship Journey with shaping her into the person she is today, and she cannot wait to take these values and lessons learned with her during this next chapter of her life.
She plans to attend the University of South Florida and major in Speech-Language Pathology. Ross feels that becoming a speech-language pathologist will guide her in sharing the values of empathy and compassion that were so important to Gina and Jaime.
When Emma Sugarman first heard the heart-wrenching stories of the discrimination and exclusion that her friends endured, she felt energized to do her part in combatting misconceptions that people with disabilities often face.
Since she began volunteering for The Friendship Journey three years ago, her perspective on friendship and equity has been transformed. Sugarman strives to do her part to help all people have a seat at the table and have their voices heard.
She will be attending the University of Florida as a Biology major on a pre-med track, hoping to exemplify Jaime and Gina’s empathy and compassion when caring for patients as a future physician and in her everyday life.
In his four years with The Friendship Journey, Anthony Zurita has attended every in-person program offered and served as a counselor at Camp Wings of Friendship.
He said The Friendship Journey taught him that friends are companions who help lift them up rather than bringing them down.
Zurita will attend the University of Florida and hopes to double major in computer science and finance. He would love the opportunity to develop software for augmentative and alternative communication someday, to create more communication opportunities for nonspeaking people, honoring Jaime and Gina’s legacy through his commitment to equity and friendship.
Since 2019, the organization has awarded $27,000 in scholarships to graduating seniors of all abilities.
The 2022 scholarship celebration is held on May 22 at 11 a.m. at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. All funds raised for this event will go directly to the Jaime Guttenberg & Gina Montalto Friendship Scholarship Fund & Celebration.
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