A small symbol of support can go a long way.
That's why students at Pine Tree ISD's PACE campus are on a mission to write and collect 4,000 notes to students and employees of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where a gunman killed 17 people Feb. 14.
The individual "Hope Notes" are part of a school service project started recently tied to National Youth Violence Prevention Week. So far, campus Principal Shalonda Adams said about 2,500 postcards have been distributed to Pine Tree, Longview, Spring Hill and Hallsville ISD campuses, as well as at community events and organizations.
She's also distributed a template of the card to schools and organizations in hopes of picking up another 1,500 cards by Thursday to reach the goal of 4,000.
"This is about humans reaching out to humans," she said.
Adams said the 4,000 notes, which she hopes to deliver to Parkland in person in the coming weeks, represent all the teachers, students and staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
"We always try to bring things locally and in our nation in front of our students," Adams said. "They came to school the next day talking about (the shooting)."
She said the exercise also teaches students an important lesson in empathy, especially since so many victims were similar in age. It also helps students at the alternative campus understand their own capability of making a positive impact on someone else's life, something Adams said is especially
empowering for young people.
She said the notes offer encouragement and support, condolences or a Bible verse.
"We want to make sure each individual person in that school knows they're important and their lives matter," Adams said. "The notes will all be so different, but getting one from someone 2,000 miles away — I'd treasure that forever."
Adams said the effort has had a broad reach, with cards picked up at the recent Women in Longview Day and Saturday's March for Our Lives event, with still more to come from City Hall, the mayor's office, local clubs and Longview police.
Justin Brooks, 16, a sophomore at Pine Tree High School, attended a card-writing event Tuesday afternoon at the Coffee Mill. He said his biggest message for those affected by the shooting is "you're not alone."
"After a tragedy, you can feel alone and depressed, and I feel like they need comfort," he said. "You never know what people are going through."
Cyna Day, 13, a Pine Tree seventh-grader, tried to think of a new message for almost each one of her cards. By Tuesday, she'd already written about 30.
"They're a survivor, and I look up to them," she said of the Parkland students. "It's important to tell people they have someone by their side."
Johnquale Smith, 18, a Pine Tree High School student, said it's easy to relate to the recipients of the notes because a similar tragedy could happen anywhere.
"I could've been in the same situation as them," he said. "It can always happen at your school. ... But school is supposed to be a home."