CSUEB club sends letters to students of the Parkland shooting


Alexis Figuera,

On Feb. 14, a former student gunned down Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Seventeen people were killed and the shooter, Nikolas Cruz, was arrested. The event has left students, parents and teachers emotionally devastated and struggling to return to school.

Two days later, in response to the shooting a teacher from the high school, Diane Wolk-Rogers, asked a Facebook group made up of AP world history teachers for handwritten letters of support to greet the students returning to school. The post has now spread all over the country, and CSU East Bay’s student club Letters to Hope has joined in.

CSUEB student Jasmin Zaragoza founded Letters to Hope in October 2017 with the purpose of sending encouraging letters to people in distress or people who had been involved in national tragedies. Zaragoza started the club after hearing about the 2017 Manchester terrorist attack where a bomb was detonated as fans left an Ariana Grande concert.

“I can’t be there physically but I can be there spiritually with my words,” she told the Pioneer.

Letters to Hope received Rogers’ request on Instagram. Instagram user @theseedthatgrew, an activist and therapist, tagged the student organization on a post of Rogers’ request. Priyanka Singh, the club’s social media coordinator, took notice of the post. “I really wanted our school to support these high schoolers who were traumatized,” Singh told The Pioneer.

Singh urged Zaragoza to use Letters to Hope to send letters to the student survivors of the Parkland shooting. “I didn’t know if I wanted to start it right away because I thought they were dealing with so much,” Zaragoza told The Pioneer. Singh convinced Zaragoza it was the right choice for the organization to reach out to the students in Parkland.

“These letters could give them hope as they went back to school after the tragedy,” said Singh. “She realized that was important and we did the meetings there after.”

On March 1-2, the club held two meetings for CSUEB students to write letters to Parkland students. The club has 50 members, however attendance at those meetings was very low. Less than 10 people showed up. Zaragoza and Singh were present at both meetings.

At the meetings, students sat at tables or desks writing letters with markers as a mix of Christian music and empowering pop ballads played in the background. Students were encouraged to be genuine but inspirational in the letters through the use of color, quotes and artwork.

All letters were written anonymously, however, and are signed off with Letters to Hope as the writer. The meetings lasted for about two hours with students often trading advice on writing letters, expressing their emotions about the events they are addressing and eating the snacks provided to them by the club.

At the end of each meeting, Zaragoza tallied up how many letters members completed to not only keep track of how many she is sending but to reward the students, too. She plans on having an award ceremony for the club to celebrate their accomplishments at the end of the year.

For the Parkland project, the club completed about 50 letters. Zaragoza intended to send 100 letters to the high school, a quota that is standard for the club.

The club has sent roughly 400 letters to survivors of the Houston hurricane, the Puerto Rico hurricane and the Las Vegas shooting. They rarely receive letters back but some students at the Universidad del Sagrado Corazon (University of the Sacred Heart) in Puerto Rico shared their stories on the organization’s website. This allowed “Dove messengers,” what Letters to Hope calls its letter writers, to start a conversation with them.

A member of the organization responded to each of the Puerto Rican students’ messages on the forum. However, many of the students did not respond. The students of Sacred Heart were still dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Maria and did not have access to the internet or a computer because they did not have any electricity.

Still, Zaragoza remains hopeful for the club despite struggles with meeting attendance and the lack of dialogue between the club and the people they send their letters to. On March 24, Zaragoza is holding a Letters to Hope meeting in San Jose open to the public to obtain 100 letters for the high school students and 17 letters specifically for the families who lost a child in the shooting. In addition, the club will hold two or more meetings in April to send 100 more letters to Parkland.

Do we have contact info in case people want to attend?