Community members are served dinner during Santa Clarita United Methodist Church's Friendsgiving on Sunday, Nov. 24, 2019. Emily Alvarenga/The Signal

Friendsgiving brings community together

Each year, the Santa Clarita United Methodist Church hosts a Friendsgiving for its youth program, but Sunday’s event was different.

In the wake of the fatal shooting Nov. 14 at Saugus High School, which many parishioners attend or attended previously as it is located just a few blocks down the road from the church, the church decided to open the event to the community.

“We would have all just sat at that little table, but in light of everything that happened, we felt that it was really important to offer something for the community,” said Jessica Welsh, youth program director at SCUMC. “We wanted to give them a place to come and be able to sit together, have a conversation and to get some valuable resources and information (about dealing with grief).”

Brandon Gonsalves, Bodhi Gonsalves and Gabrielle Gillette, left to right, eat dinner at Santa Clarita United Methodist Church’s Friendsgiving on Sunday, Nov. 24, 2019. Emily Alvarenga/The Signal

In addition to dinner, Steve Paterson, a grief counselor at La Mesa Junior High School, discussed dealing with trauma.

“The goal is always hope,” Paterson said. “I always end my sessions with my students by telling them to remember the good times of laughter and joy — no one can ever take that away from you … Never forget that. And it’s gonna take a minute, but things are gonna get better.”

Though there is no set way to process a traumatic event, Paterson said that supporting one another is key. “This is the process and it’s not going to go away right away, so we all have to support one another through this process.”

Community members are served dinner during Santa Clarita United Methodist Church’s Friendsgiving on Sunday, Nov. 24, 2019. Emily Alvarenga/The Signal

“While dealing with fear, we need to take extra steps to reach out to our kids in order to make sure they know that we care,” added Elaine Cho, lead pastor at SCUMC.

Cho then told attendees that she received an email from someone at Sandy Hook Elementary, where a school shooting took place in 2012.

“They are still healing, and they still remember that incident … but we are helping each other, we’re learning to reach out to each other and support each other in every possible way,” she said. “We have to direct our energy to something positive, so that we could transform the world into a better place.”

Community members signed a “Saugus Strong” banner during Santa Clarita United Methodist Church’s Friendsgiving on Sunday, Nov. 24, 2019. Emily Alvarenga/The Signal

Attendees were also able to sign messages to Saugus High students on a “Saugus Strong” banner, donate to the victims or write what they’re thankful for on leaves for the “Tree of Thankfulness.”

Parishioners Charlie and Kathy Gray said they think this is a great way to bring the community together.

“Anything we can do for the community is good,” Charlie said. “We’ve got to be a shining light in the community, especially now. This is this safe place.”

Community members received “Saugus Strong” bracelets during Santa Clarita United Methodist Church’s Friendsgiving on Sunday, Nov. 24, 2019. Emily Alvarenga/The Signal

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