Life’s Joys and Heartaches

This month’s reflection centers around opposite ends of the spectrum: altruism and unimaginable loss. To be human is to experience both joy and heartache, irrespective of one’s background, personal circumstance, or raison d’etre. Organizations and corporations mirror the human condition in this way, and Horizons is no exception. In April, Horizons rejoiced in an act of kindness and generosity and, shortly thereafter, faced a tragic loss within our community. 

This quote from actor and cultural icon Denzel Washington best puts the act of kindness and generosity in context:

“At the end it’s not about what you have or even what you’ve accomplished. It’s about who you’ve lifted up, who you’ve made better. It’s about what you’ve given back.”

A few months ago, Mr. Alex Vega, a current Horizons parent, contacted us, out of the blue, to say that he was interested in starting a scholarship fund for our graduating seniors. The $1,000 scholarship would go to one senior with a 3.0 GPA or higher, and applicants would have to write about why they were interested in pursuing higher education and how a scholarship would help them with their studies. 

Four of our seniors took the time to write an essay; each submission was impressive and heartfelt. Below is an excerpt written by the senior that Mr. Vega awarded the scholarship to:

“It is important to me to show my parents that I am grateful for their hard work and encouragement, which has allowed me to pursue my education. However, I also want to show myself that I am capable of overcoming and growing from obstacles I will encounter in college. I believe that securing aid at the start of my college journey is the first step. As a first-generation college student, this scholarship will provide me an opportunity to show my gratitude, determination, and dedication to achieve academic success, and I hope that I may obtain an honorable grade point average and graduate Summa Cum Laude as a symbol of my continued commitment to my education and others I hope to impact in the future with my degree.” 

Mr. Vega shared with me that he wished he could have enough funds to provide scholarships to each of the applicants, as they were all worthy. I replied that by being so generous and providing financial support to a student he did not know, he was single-handedly opening the door to opportunity and would have a positive impact for this student and her family now and in the future. 

I ask myself, what would the world be like with more Alex Vegas?

Just as we were all celebrating this heartfelt act of kindness, we got word that an older sibling of three of our students died from an accidental gunshot wound at age 17. The young man was on the cusp of launching into adulthood, when he found himself in an unpredictable situation with his older brother and best friend. The three were playing with an unsecured, loaded gun, and he was accidently killed. This tragedy has touched so many in our community, most significantly his immediate family, who will need tremendous support as they process what happened. Without question, this horrible accident will have profound repercussions that will change the course of each family member’s life forever, as well as their community, of which Horizons is a part.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, firearms have been the leading cause of death for American children and teens since 2020, representing 19% of all deaths for children 18 years and younger in 2021. A recent study by scientists at the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio found that 64% of accidental gun deaths happened at the victim’s home, and in most cases, the gun belonged to a relative or a parent. For kids ages 10 to 14, nearly a third of the shooters were friends of the victims. 

This is a national crisis that has now impacted our Horizons community in a very tangible way. My hope is that anyone who is reading this does what you can to prevent this type of tragedy from unfolding in your own home, with your own children. Collectively, as adults and caregivers, we need to do what we can to protect all children from violence of any kind. If you must have a firearm in your home, make sure that it is secured and stored far away from children. Safe Kids Worldwide, a nonprofit focused on promoting gun safety around children, has valuable tips that can be found in this link. 

As we work hard to prepare for our upcoming summer program, we hold these opposing events in our hearts and minds. If you were moved by this piece and want to explore how you can make a difference, my door is always open.