At the edge of Santa Clarita’s Central Park sits a somber, circular collection of more than 100 concrete tree stumps representing the youth whose lives were cut short from incidents on the road.
Their names and ages are etched in plaques atop pillars which surround a central monument, encouraging the community to “Know More” so “No More” young lives will be lost in traffic-related accidents.
Acting as both a place of remembrance and a location for reflection, the Youth Grove provides a centralized site for the community to reflect on the implications of choices made behind the wheel.
In 2003, Saugus High School student Kathi Knight and her mother, Debbie Knight, wrote a letter to former Councilmember Frank Ferry about the creation of a place like the Youth Grove, according to Jennifer Thompson, Santa Clarita’s arts and schools administrator.
“She had the idea of a memorial because she had three friends on her street that passed away from driving incidents,” Thompson said.
Out of the letter came a subcommittee from the Blue Ribbon Task Force that began a grassroots effort to fundraise, design and install the Youth Grove.
Alice Renolds, who lost her sons Danny, 15, and Tim, 17, Feb. 17, 2000 in a fatal traffic collision, was part of the Blue Ribbon Task Force subcommittee to develop the Youth Grove.
“We started from the ground up trying to create our visual concept,” Renolds said. “We had to work with finding a space to build it and settled with the park.”
Renolds and her team spent several years fundraising and taking donations for the space.
The final donations for landscaping, lighting, concrete and other materials came from Charlie Rasmussen of C.A. Rasmussen Inc. and his cohorts of three to four businesses, according to Thompson.
The committee broke ground on the Youth Grove Nov. 18, 2005 and opened it to the public in 2006.
“I think we’re really proud of what we ended up with,” Renolds said. “When we’re out there people will walk by and say ‘oh wow this is really impactful and meaningful’ and ‘this is a good idea’ and we ‘need this.’”
Now—10 years later—the Youth Grove includes the names of 102 Santa Clarita youth, 24 years old and younger, who have died in traffic related incidents. Nine names were added in just the last year, according to city records.
For parents like Renolds and her husband Tom, the Youth Grove is a place to remember their children and their lives.
“It means a lot to a lot of the parents that have children who are remembered there because a lot of parents have had their children cremated,” Renolds said. “The pain of losing a child never goes away. I think of my sons every minute of every day.”
Parents and friends also have a chance to honor those lost at the annual “Evening of
Remembrance” held each year in September. During this night, the names and photos of youth killed in traffic incidents are read aloud as their photos roll across screens.
“That night is important,” Renolds said. “It’s hard to see their names and faces, but it’s meaningful. For us, it’s been 16 years since we’ve lost our sons and you don’t hear their names as much so it’s very meaningful.”
The grove is also used as a tool to educate youth about the leading cause of death for teens in the United States: motor vehicle crashes.
“The kids need to know that they’re not invincible… it can happen to them too,” Renolds said.
“When my son left that night I said ‘I love you and be careful’ and he said ‘I’m always careful,’ but he didn’t come home.”
Renolds and others involved in the Blue Ribbon Task Force want individuals to be aware of every decision they make behind the wheel and to avoid distracted driving and driving under the influence.
“They need to understand that, behind the wheel, every decision they make can affect not only them, but everyone else around them,” Renolds said. “They have to be aware of everything going on and make the right decision.”