Before flooding to the heart of campus for lunch Tuesday afternoon, dozens of UCF students took a minute to commemorate the 49 victims of the Pulse nightclub massacre.
The volunteer organization Hands On Orlando encouraged people passing by to write heartfelt messages and draw pictures on its wood pulp banner outside the Student Union.
UCF alumnus Kyle Trager, the community partnership's manager at Hands On Orlando, said after natural disasters, there are unambiguous volunteer opportunities, such as clearing debris off of roads and bringing supplies to neighbors. However, after an act of terrorism, it is difficult for community members to “get right out there.” They usually do not know where to begin, he added.
“We want this [banner] to symbolize the start of healing — the process where we’re no longer just victims, where we’re actually doing something about this,” Trager said. “One of the best ways to fight terror is to use love. That’s what we’re doing.”
Among the students who stopped to sign the 'Love Banner' was Janeen Garib, who was at UCF for orientation. The 17-year-old crouched beside other Knights and wrote the words “Orlando is strong” in purple marker.
Although she was running late for her next session, Garib pulled out her phone and looked up the order of a rainbow’s colors before drawing it on the banner.
“I wanted to show my support and show people that we love and care,” Garib said. “This is our home. We need to stay strong.”
SGA President Christopher Clemente and SGA Vice President Rachel Altfield came across the banner on their way to lunch and decided to sign.
Clemente said the word heartbroken does not do justice in describing how Knights are feeling after losing UCF student Juan Ramon Guerrero and UCF alumnus Christopher Andrew Leinonen due to the Pulse shooting.
“We’re going to continue to support any effort to help those affected….Any loss of life is always a tragedy,” Clemente said.
In addition to signing the banner, Clemente and Altfield spent Monday handing out snacks and water to UCF students participating in the campus blood drive. Clemente also shared a few words at a Tuesday night vigil that was attended by about 1,000 UCF community members.
“It really shows how our community can come together, and not just the Orlando community but the UCF community,” Altfield said.
Hands On Orlando will be venturing out to different areas across central Florida this week to encourage locals to sign their names on the 'Love Banner.' The organization has already acquired hundreds of signatures and is planning on dividing the banner into sections. It will be given to victims’ families, first responders and other key stakeholders in the Orlando community.
Shana Medel is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. Email her at ShanaM@CentralFloridaFuture.com.
Originally published June 15, 2016.