Shenendehowa High School East Memorial Garden–Bringing our Community Together

PK Gerstenberger holding the plaque that will be displayed  in the garden.

After many months of planning and two weekends of hard labor the Student/Teacher Memorial Garden at Shenendehowa’s High School East will be open to all who wish to remember students and teachers who have passed away.  When Annette Romano first approached me about updating this garden located in the front circle of the high school to remember our boys, Luke and Nick, I thought it was a great idea.  But with everything we do with the foundation, I had to make sure that it connected to our mission of raising awareness about childhood cancer and helping children fight cancer.

We approached the teens at Nick’s Round Table and everyone thought it was a meaningful project and important to the community.  When HSE Principal, Mr. Flynt, became involved, our community had already been struck down again by the loss of Christopher Stewart and Deanna Rivers.  Our mission grew to have a place to honor Nick, Chris and Deanna since all three would have been graduating this year.  Luke would have graduated last year and his spirit is so connected with the other three that our four families decided to work together.

L-R: Stephen Cammarata, PK Gerstenberger, Dante Cilento, Marcus Romano helping to install the stand that will hold the plaque.

This project has been a stepping stone for many young adults to find their voice and utilize their gifts. Dante Cilento, a member of Nick’s Round Table and good friend of Stephen, drew a basic layout for the garden.  It was well received and the only change was that the layout of the rocks represent a peace sign.  As president of Nick’s Round Table, PK Gerstenberger took a major initiative in getting school administration, clubs and the technology class involved with the project.  He helped build the bird house and the stand for the plaque along with volunteers from the Tech class.

The Shenendehowa School District and the community have been incredibly supportive. Special thanks to the High School PTSA (especially Sally Vanderzee and Jane Stephan), Seasonal Supply, Troy Landscaping and various school groups for sponsoring this project.  Scott McCart played an amazing role in organizing the clean-up and planting and his guidance is very much appreciated.

Our community has what it takes to make a difference.

Football and lacrosse players, members of Nick’s Round Table, friends of the families all came together to create a warm and inviting space where we can remember our children.  In the coming weeks, stones will be added with our children’s names.  I hope that many of you will take the time to enjoy it and remember those  we have lost, but whose spirits soar with us.

Blue stones create a path throughout the garden and will be paved with loved ones’ names.

So how does this garden fulfill our mission? It raises awareness about those who have been lost to cancer, it shows us what incredible feats can be accomplished when we all come together for a common goal, and it heals us from the constant pain of missing our children.  But most of all it reignites our belief in the power of giving, of reaching out to help others, and empowers us to make a difference in others’ lives. This project and the LukeStrong Olympics that is appropriately scheduled for after the dedication reflect the compassion and giving spirit of the Shenendehowa community. Nick, Luke, Chris and Deanna  have undeniably impacted our lives.  The young adults who have given so much in their memories make me incredibly proud.

Each family donated a granite bench in memory of Nick, Luke, Chris and Deanna in the hopes that students, families, and faculty will enjoy the beauty and peace of this garden.

The memorial garden dedication is Wednesday, June 5 at 5:45pm at the garden circle.  LukeStrong Olympics begins immediately after at the Shen HS Track.  All are welcome.

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