“Alone we feel… together we heal,” was Pulse nightclub Josh Garcia’s first thought as he began emerging from a cocoon of grief and depression following the senseless act of hate in Orlando, Florida. Stars of HOPE’s Director of Operations and Programs, Josh Garcia, credits the powerful Stars he received for being an integral component of helping him heal.
Josh said tons of mail was coming into Pulse following the tragedy but it was two boys and their mother who stopped by his office a few days after the shooting to give him Stars that immediately touched him to the “core.” The mother explained they were compelled to do something and that Stars of HOPE allowed them to do something positive for someone else and create a smile. “The following day, three women came with boxes of Stars created by Universal Lowes Hotels,” explained Josh. In fact, Universal Lowes Hotels had created 1,000 Stars for Orlando. “These three women all endured tragedy in their own lives after both natural and human-caused tragedies. They immediately opened their arms and shared their stories with me.” Josh invited the ladies to the office to share hope. “I was almost sure the staff would respond the same way I did the day before.” And that they did. “As they searched through the boxes of Stars of HOPE, they found the star that ‘spoke’ to them. They read the messages on the back and I started to witness small smiles. In return, this helped me heal a little inside. It gave me a glimpse of hope for them and reminded me there is still good in the world during such a dark time.” It also gave Josh a glimpse of the incredible healing power found in the survivor to survivor human connectivity. Little did he know, it was only just the beginning.
“Six months after the Pulse tragedy, SOH invited me to San Bernardino for a community project. I did not know anyone from SOH, but the Stars brought me so much positivity and light, I knew I had to see how I could ‘pay it forward’. There, I met survivors from San Bernardino but also a group of volunteers who endured tragedy in some way. They showed me there is life after tragedy. I often refer to this moment as ‘Alone we feel, together we heal.’ I did not know this then, but I was being introduced to a life-long family of healing.”
Josh spent months volunteering for SOH and said it very much aided in his healing and his continual healing. He officially joined the staff of SOH as Director of Programs in 2017 and was promoted in early 2018 to Director of Operations and Programs. “SOH helped me breathe again for a second and I held onto my Stars as daily reminders to keep moving forward. They were beacons of light during my healing process. Many items sent to locations are often categorized by a museum or collected for a memorial. Although Stars were hung throughout the community, many other survivors, victim’s family members, first responders, and city officials all have a personal Star of HOPE which they keep in a place that reminds them to stay strong daily. SOH are personal pieces of art that belong to the receiver. Many have told me it not only remind them to stay strong during times of being provoked by other tragedies but through personal tribulations as well. The Stars of HOPE continue to bring me hope, personally. I have them in my office as a daily reminder to ‘honor with action’ as one beautiful Pulse mom told me.”
His time with SOH has taken him across the globe from San Bernardino to Puerto Rico to New York to Manchester… and everywhere in between. “Not one place stands out more than another. I’ve realized, whether it is a natural or human-caused tragedy, we are all hurting and trying to heal. We are trying to figure out what’s next? How do we move forward and sometimes… why? SOH shows how resilient we are when we come together as one. It sounds like a simple project, but it is as simple as being kind to a total stranger… to let someone know they are not alone and keep hope… the message of kindness, love, and hope gave me the power to keep going and I only hope we can continue to do that for others. Delivering the SOH created by others is such a personal moment. Many survivors begin to share their stories and reach out with a hug of gratitude. It is the surprise that someone created a one of a kind piece of art for them.”