In the wake of the Parkland school massacre, when 17 bright lights lost their lives in an unimaginable tragedy, 29-year-old Samantha Novick is bearing witness to the idea that love for your neighbors and community is sustaining.
As president of The Friendship Journey, the Coconut Creek, Florida resident offers programs that provide services and opportunities to children and young adults with special needs, fostering relationships and enriching lives through inclusive programs. It was only after the deadly 2018 shooting, her own mother present in the building during the attack, and two The Friendship Journey student volunteers killed, that Samantha’s volunteerism was reframed in a different light, driven she says, by her desire to give more and appreciate the fragility of life.
Now creating friendships and fostering love to provide the sustenance her recovering community so desperately needs, Samantha is uniting individuals in the name of support and love, and is today’s Daily Point of Light award honoree. Points of Light spoke to Samantha to learn more about her volunteerism.
What inspires you to volunteer?
I’m so grateful for any opportunity to help. Service has provided me with so much joy in my life. I know that sounds very cliche, but I really do feel that. From my experience with The Friendship Journey, people get involved because they want to help, and after they’re involved, they realize how much they learn from individuals of all abilities, and how they’re really helped just as much by them as they are offering help.
Describe your role with The Friendship Journey.
As president of The Friendship Journey, I ensure that we are creating organic friendships between individuals of all abilities and provide space for these friendships to occur. As a speech language pathologist, I realized that there was a gap in access for reading and other educational programs for special needs individuals. Through the seven different programs we offer, we’re giving children and young adults of all abilities the opportunity to get more involved, whether its increasing access to reading, or developing in some other way. We are really breaking down barriers, promoting diversity, equity and inclusion, regardless of someone’s perceived ability. We believe that every person has the ability to develop friendships and to receive love.
Share one personal story with me from your volunteerism.
In addition to my work with The Friendship Journey, I had the honor of helping Marjory Stoneman Douglas students plan the Parkland March for Our Lives in 2018. I walked offstage after speaking at the march, and all of the MSD students embraced me in a hug. I had just met them a month before, but at that moment I thought of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who famously said, ‘Always fight with love.’ That was the moment where I realized that fighting with love meant that we would win. As angry as we are and continue to be, ultimately, the love that we feel for one another and our community is going to sustain us.
You are honoring 2 of the Parkland shooting victims through your volunteerism. Explain.
Two of our student volunteers with The Friendship Journey were killed in the shooting. We’ve recently opened our newest program called “Dance Party Friends” in honor of Jaime Guttenberg, one of the shooting victims. The program gives our attendees a chance to participate in an inclusive dance party, and just have fun and enjoy themselves in a nurturing environment. Jaime was just 14-years-old when she was killed, but she was passionate about helping individuals of all abilities. Her dance teacher now instructs our new class in honor of Jaime. Also, we are recognizing another victim and volunteer of ours, Gina Montalto. She was an incredible artist. We recently ran a program in her honor at a local art studio. We have to bear witness for these victims. We have to remember their names.
What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?
My mom is a current teacher at MSD in Parkland, and she was at the school when the shooting happened. I’ve always loved to help others, truly. Last year’s shooting really gave me a different perspective on life. I am constantly inspired by the 17 individuals that lost their lives in the shooting. There was so much light that was lost that day. That’s really accelerated my motivation to try to give more and to support others in our community, because I’m still here, and I’m still breathing, and not everyone has that opportunity.
Tell me about how you’ve served through grief.
I am a strong believer in healing through service. Service has helped us in so many ways over the last year and a half. We’ve felt helpless in so many ways in our community, so it feels good to help others and continue the legacies of the 17 that we lost that day.
How can readers help?
The Friendship Gala is being held in September 2019 in Parkland, Florida. Please check our website for more information about how you can help: https://thefriendshipjourney.org/.