NORTH TAMPA — Sixteen-year-old Abigail Friedman didn't want to talk after a close friend died in November. Noah Kushner's suicide delivered the second devastating blow in less than a year to Friedman and her King High School classmates. They were still trying to cope with the loss of Calyx Schenecker, the teen shot and killed by her mother in January 2011. Calyx's brother, Beau, was also killed.
Friedman remained quiet about her loss until it came time to say goodbye.
"There were funeral arrangements, and I didn't want to deal with it," the high school junior remembers. "And then his family came to me. They were only giving him a memorial service for us to be able to say goodbye to him. That's what really showed me that if they could be so strong, then I could also be that strong."
Weeks after Kushner's death, another of Friedman's close friends considered suicide.
This time the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay intervened.
And despite the possible loss of yet another friend, Friedman resolved to remain strong, eventually volunteering for the center.
"The crisis center deals with teen suicide, and it's pretty much the only place in Tampa that will even talk about it," Friedman said. "I felt that if the crisis center was more available to people, maybe they could have helped my friend (Kushner)."
Friedman described the difference in media coverage between the Scheneckers' murders and Kushner's suicide.
"This (Kushner's suicide) hit us, and no one talked about it," Friedman said. "And I didn't understand why. Why was this such a taboo? How come no one could talk about this? And was that perpetuating the problem? How come kids can't talk about this kind of stuff, but the other was so widely publicized? And in the end it was the same result. There's a dead teenager."
Spurred by the fact the crisis center saved her friend from a similar fate, Friedman continues to help the agency near Bearss and N Florida avenues.
That dedication helped lead a group of seven committee members, including Tampa Bay Times columnist Ernest Hooper, to choose Friedman as one of five 2012 Bank of America Student Leaders for her community outreach and volunteer work. Friedman has been awarded an eight-week paid internship with a nonprofit organization and a week-long trip to Washington, D.C., for a Student Leadership Summit.
Friedman traces her involvement back to a desire to engage the community in awareness.
After Kushner's death last fall, Friedman joined Teens in Action, a leadership group within Frameworks of Tampa Bay. Frameworks aims to help youth ages 8 to 18 develop social and emotional skills to manage life's stresses and challenges. Teens in Action further matches students with volunteer opportunities.
Friedman was given a choice of organizations with whom she could volunteer. She saw the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay on the list and immediately picked it.
When the crisis center needed volunteers to help organize Sunday's Take Back the Night, a yearly event aimed to raise awareness and educate about sexual violence, Friedman stepped up again to help.
"This was sort of my way of almost giving back to what they (the Crisis Center) had done for me," Friedman said. "I was first passionate about the Crisis Center and the work they were doing. And then I got passionate about Take Back the Night."
To prepare for the event at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, Friedman helped create a huge banner and spread word of the event at school.
"The work they do with these women is so inspirational," Friedman said. "A lot of the time when you talk about rape it's very depressing and hateful. But this is a very uplifting event, actually."
Marilyn Bray, outreach and engagement coordinator in sexual assault services at the crisis center, describes Friedman as energetic and passionate. Bray said because of her efforts, Friedman has been named Candlelight Director for the event. She'll be in charge of organizing youth volunteers and distributing candles for the vigil.
"She stood out in the group," Bray said of Friedman. "I'm very, very grateful for her.
"She'll have an amazing future. She's going to help a lot of people and great things are to come."
In addition to her dedication as a volunteer, Friedman also plays on King High's basketball team, is an active member of the Student Government Association, and is president of the Thespians, the school's theater group.
Friedman has chosen to spend her internship with the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts.
"I am looking forward to spending my summer in Tampa's biggest and greatest theater," she said. "That is a dream for any theater nerd. I'm excited."
Friedman says she has given some thought to how her experiences will shape her future.
"I'd definitely like to make people more aware of how teenagers feel," she said. "It's not just hormones and it's not just us being crazy, there's actual things that we need to talk about."
Sarah Gottlieb can be reached at [email protected]