By: Sharon Aron Baron
Just two months after fearing for their lives as they fled Stoneman Douglas High School, ten of the survivors, along with volunteers with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints helped transform a youth shelter into a source of inspiration.
After the tragedy in Parkland, volunteers from the Coral Springs church declared they were fearless, and painted it in bold letters, transforming a once faded and peeling wall mural at the Lippman Youth shelter in Oakland Park, FL.
The mural was just one of two projects that Terrance Washington, manager at the Lippman shelter, and youth leaders from the LDS church agreed would help to create a more positive environment for the youth who reside at the shelter.
In a second project, the volunteers laid sod to transform the space behind the building from mostly rough ground with patches of grass covered in sand and dirt, into a beautiful yard suitable for all kinds of outdoor activities. Washington said it was “literally amazing” that the youth were able to transform that space and that they were “tremendously grateful” for the efforts of the LDS youth and leaders.
Youth residing at the shelter, 14 in total, worked along with the LDS volunteers to complete the project. It took only four hours to lay the sod, paint the mural. In total, over 100 people came together to volunteer and make the youth shelter feel a little more welcoming for those youth seeking refuge.
Madeline Wilford, one of the survivors of the school shooting was introduced to a girl living in the shelter and had a lot of issues going on. Wilford said to her that she had been shot and had a lot going on as well and yet she survived and was still out serving others. “I guess that’s just how I am. I serve to feel closer to my Savior.”
Kelly Petty, mother of 14-year-old shooting victim Alaina helped with the mural painting. “Alaina would have loved this,” she said. “She loved to get her hands dirty. I can just see her helping to lay the sod and wanting to serve others.”
The project not only provided an opportunity for the young volunteers to serve, but also to lead. In preparation for the project, youth leaders ages 16-18 made five trips to the shelter to fix sprinkler heads and sprinklers as well as prepare the cement wall for the mural by power washing, applying cement sealer, and stenciling a template mural.
Danielle Koon, Stake Young’s Woman’s President wanted to be sure that they incorporated service into the lives of the youth because, “Service was our Savior’s way, and it heals. Many of our youth are healing. Youth around the world have reached out to our members who were affected by the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Their service has touched our hearts. We want to give back. The youth in this shelter need a safe comfortable place to be while resolving their troubles.”
The Lippman shelter helps reunite and heal families that may be torn apart by conflict. Programs include: short-term, residential shelters for runaways and troubled youth, ages 10-17, as well as individual and family counseling.
LDS leader Stephen Smith said that it has been a tumultuous time for the youth in the community in every sense as natural disasters have destroyed homes and disrupted lives. Referring to the school shooting, he mentioned the senseless and despicable violence that had taken beautiful, innocent lives and left them with broken hearts and wounded spirits. Yet, despite their wounded hearts and spirits, their youth have accepted their challenges.
“They have shown how love will conquer hate,” he said. “Rather than retreating from life, they have determined to share love by serving others.”