NORTH LAUDERDALE - Scott Beigel both dedicated and gave his life to helping children.
A geography teacher, Beigel was killed while providing refuge for students during the tragic mass shooting that occurred on Feb. 14, 2018 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. The 35-year-old educator and cross-country coach was one of the 17 who lost their lives.
"He unlocked the door and let us in," MSD student Kelsey Friend told the Sun Sentinel days after the shooting occurred. "I had thought he was behind me, but he wasn't. When he opened the door, he had to re-lock it so we could stay safe, but he didn't get the chance to.
"He was in the doorway and the door was still open and the shooter probably didn't know we were in there because he was lying on the floor. If the shooter had come in the room, I probably wouldn't be [alive]."
A year later, Beigel's heroic actions and sacrifice have not been forgotten, and his passion for helping children continues to live on. With the help of the Florida Panthers, HandsOn Broward recently revitalized parts of the Leo Goodwin Foundation Teen Center to honor his memory.
In addition to refurbishing the outdoor hockey rink at the Boys & Girls Club's North Lauderdale facility, members of Beigel's family and MSD's cross-country team also planted a new butterfly garden and resurrected a forgotten vegetable garden to aid children studying culinary programs.
Hanging above the entrance to the garden is a hand-painted sign that reads "Scott's Garden."
"In speaking with Scott's mom, Linda, and asking her what kind of project would best honor him, she said that his personal motto was 'to better the life of a child,'" said Kristina DaSilva, who serves as HandsOn Broward's Chief Operating Officer.
"When he was a young man, summer camp was a place he could go to just be Scott. We thought about our partners in the community and those partners that were making a difference in the lives of kids, and the Boys & Girls Club was obviously a natural fit."
Helping fund these renovations was a $25,000 donation from the Panthers through the team's Community Champions Grant Program, which is presented by Moss Construction and the Moss Foundation. HandsOn Broward will be awarded with the check during Sunday's games against the Montreal Canadiens as part of a larger night of various MSD observances and dedications.
"These kids are here today because of the help of the Florida Panthers," DaSilva said. "We were able to come together and honor Scott in a way that is meaningful to him and his family. We're just grateful to be able to do this for his cause."
Beigel's project is one of 17 that HandsOn Broward has taken on since last year's tragedy. In honor of each victim, the organization has been working with families, local volunteers and non-profit partners to create unique projects that positively impact the community in their memory.
Known as the "Parkland Hearts Art Project," it's been a big part of the local healing process.
"Immediately following [the shooting], HandsOn Broward started receiving a lot of phone calls from the community asking what we could do in response to the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School," DaSilva said. "At the time, there really wasn't anything we could do. But as an organization and as a team, we came together, and we knew that what we do in terms of serving other people can make a difference… The projects are 17 service projects that honor those we lost in the Parkland tragedy with causes that they were near to and passionate about."
Like all of the children Beigel gave his life to protect, the areas of the Leo Goodwin Foundation Teen Center that were renovated in his honor will continue to do the same, giving local students a place to further their passions and keep learning new things in a safe, inclusive environment.
And to christen the revamped outdoor rink, which features a beautiful mural of blue, white and black triangles lining the boards that was recently hand painted by Beigel's friends and family, the Panthers hosted a special hockey clinic for 100 Boys & Girls Club members on Feb. 8.
"Obviously being a hockey team, being able to renew that hockey rink and giving these kids a place to go, I think it was a good way to honor Scott's memory," said Panthers Director of Community Relations John Colombo. "For us to be able to give back to our community and honor his memory really means a lot."