Friday, September 21, 2018
News Roundup

POSITIVE ENERGY

The Amalie Arena rumbled with noise from thousands of cheering fans, rattling their noisemakers and banging them against the seats.

The chaotic energy was so loud you could feel the seats shake.

But the Lightning faithful thundered applause not for the team, but for Plant High seniors Brooke Shapiro and Macie Lavender during the first period of the April 14 playoff game against the New Jersey Devils.

The two received a standing ovation for their work organizing the Tampa March for our Lives, which brought out an astonishing crowd of more than 15,000 people including students from 55 different schools across Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties.

• • •

After witnessing the tragic events of the Parkland shooting, the two felt compelled to act and wanted to turn their fear and anger into something powerful and positive.

So, after seeking advice from the organizers of the 2017 Women’s March in St. Petersburg that drew a crowd of 30,000 people, they gathered fellow students, promoted through social media, recruited volunteers and speakers, and even held a press conference.

Their goals were to unite the community, and encourage other young people to speak up for causes they believe in.

The scoreboard played a video presentation highlighting the young activists’ work and ended with them jumping and screaming live on camera with their closest friends and family as they waved their customized Lightning jerseys.

The pair also joined their families to take selfies on the home bench before the game, and enjoy a tour of the Lightning locker room where they met owner Jeff Vinik, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and Lightning center Tyler Johnson.

The team presented the pair a $50,000 donation from the Lightning Foundation and the Lightning Community Heroes.

Brooke and Macie will donate half to support leadership development at Frameworks, a non-profit organization that teaches youth how to manage their emotions, while the other half they will split for their own education.

Brooke will study women’s studies at Yale University and Macie plans to study political science and international relations at Florida State University.

•••

The pair were nearly speechless and could not stop smiling afterwards.

"It’s amazing to have our march recognized on such a huge scale for the Lightning Foundation to reach out to us and want to honor us," Lavender said.

"I’m just so happy that we can help promote the movement through our work. It’s fulfilling that instead of people viewing this as a one-sided protest that doesn’t mean anything, they are taking our work as activists extremely serious."

Brooke shared this same excitement and fulfillment, but for her this honor was more personal.

"I’ve been watching this community and this program for a while now, and a couple of my friends have won it before," Shapiro said.

"I’ve seen the entire process and have always admired it from afar, so it’s amazing to be apart of it now. I could have never foreseen this."

When selecting a charity to receive the $25,000 donation, Brooke and Macie said it was obvious Frameworks was deserving of it because they facilitate conversations that affect them directly as students.

"It speaks volumes to the level of leadership within the girls," said Amanda Page-Zwierko, executive director for Frameworks. "We’re jumping for joy and incredibly grateful for the girls and the Tampa Bay Lightning to think of us."

•••

The award-winning Lightning Community Heroes of Tomorrow program started in 2016 as an extension of the original Lightning Community Hero program that highlights adults in the community, but instead seeks to grow the next generation of fans and young philanthropists ages 25 and under, encouraging them to partner with local nonprofits to make a difference.

The girls aren’t the only "Heroes of Tomorrow."

The program has created great memories for a total of 24 deserving recipients since the inception two years ago, and has donated $900,000 to fund a variety of programs and initiatives launched by students as well as scholarships for their college education.

Katherine Newcomb from Riverview High School speaks highly of the program since receiving the award last month. It not only will help with her college expenses at Florida State, but has already helped underserved youth receive free swimming and water safety instructions at Brandon Sports and Aquatics center.

"It was very a humbling experience and just validated for me that my hard work has paid off," Newcomb said. "The Lightning Foundation were super generous to me and I cannot thank the Vinik family enough for donating to help a cause that’s important to me because drowning is a huge problem in our community."

Vance Tomasi, a 12-year old Farnell Middle School student says since receiving the donation in February, Hillsborough County Public Schools has quickly approached its goal of at least 50,000 new books for summer camp students who struggle with reading. They now have 45,000 books, and 5,000 of which were received just in the last two months.

Personally, his scholarship will help him pursue a career in medicine at Harvard.

"I was ecstatic," Tomasi said. "It was a great opportunity. It’s just a really nice thing for him (Vinik) to do because he didn’t have to. It encourages me to keep going and do more."

•••

As for Brooke and Macie, they have met with Congresswoman Kathy Castor and Hillsborough County Schools Superintendent Jeff Eakins about school security and safety.

"We’re at a unique point in history where students are actually being listened to and now have a seat at the table. So, we need to use our voices and capitalize while we have the platform to do so," Lavender said.

Contact Monique Welch at [email protected]

 
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