By: Jill Fox
A corner that Coral Springs and Parkland residents drive by almost daily to take their students to Marjory Stoneman Douglas has been given a makeover by two women who have bonded over tragedy.
Ronit Reoven, an AP Psychology teacher and her student and neighbor, Victoria (Tori) Gonzalez, began #Projectgrowlove to honor the 17 lives lost on February 14 by brightening up the corner along Holmberg Road and Pine Island Road.
Reoven, a teacher at the school for 19 years, was in classroom 1213 on the day of the massacre, as one of her students was killed and four were injured.
Gonzalez, a senior, describes Joaquin Oliver, who was one of the 17 victims, as her boyfriend and best friend.
Reoven and Gonzalez are not only neighbors in Coral Springs, who share the same street in Brookside, but they are now connected by a special bond.
“She’s the one that I wanted; she was my girl for this,” said Reoven about how #Projectgrowlove began.
On Christmas Eve, Reoven witnessed a man taking a photo at the intersection. She was angry that the administration hadn’t yet replaced the memorials which covered the hill outside the school after the shooting.
“We’re still a landmark and there’s nothing that honors our 17 angels, just a barren, dirt-filled, grassy, weeded area. Nothing is there for the community,” said Reoven.
She reached out to Gonzalez, who agreed, and they took it upon themselves to “do it because no one else did.”
The pair planted a few flowers on Christmas Eve, in the hopes that people would follow their lead, and on December 26, Gonzalez posted a tweet to her 12,000 plus followers:
“Since our school has not done much to memorialize our 17, Mrs. Reoven and I have taken it upon ourselves to start #ProjectGrowLove. Come join us in adding to our garden of honor, and in remembering our loved ones.”
The whole reason that it is blossoming the way it is, is because of the community coming together and doing this she said.
According to Reoven, the garden is in an impromptu state. As people come and contribute, whether it is roses or tulips, stones or benches, whatever they bring and they place, the community is almost guiding the direction in which it grows.
Gonzalez finished her tweet with “Let’s make this grand”, and indeed it is. As donations rolled in, another member of the community wanted to do his part. Jon Faber, whose son was also close with Joaquin Oliver, felt that the MSD sign looked shabby and volunteered to fix it up. Now, the monument has been repainted by Jay Presser and showcases a new mascot logo and lettering thanks to a donation from Parkland City Commissioner Rich Walker. Also, Parkland resident Barry Kauffman, who owns American Tire Recycling in Miami, donated over 30 bags of mulch.
According to Faber, the sign’s old logo will be auctioned off for the local charities of the seventeen victims’ families.
“Jon just wants to make sure everything is as beautiful as possible,” said Gonzalez.
Gonzalez said that this project has personally shown her that people can still be kind, and that’s the biggest thing that she has taken away from this and a huge thing for her to see that she can be reminded of everyday.
For anyone who is interested in contributing to the garden, it is a community effort. Reoven said to visit when you can, and add whatever you would like to the garden, located in front of the school on the corner of Pine Island Road and Holmberg Road.
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.