Santa Clarita hosts 17th annual Evening of Remembrance at Central Park’s Youth Grove
Susan Collier caressed an image of her daughter, Jessica Brooke Collier, forever 21, who died in a traffic-related incident — similar to the other 117 Santa Clarita Valley youth whose names are engraved at the Youth Grove monument.
With tears spilling down her cheeks, Collier bent down, put her fingers to her lips then her fingers onto the simulated tree stump with her daughter’s name engraved on it. Collier thought she would be alone for the city of Santa Clarita’s 17th annual Evening of Remembrance.
But she was not, as her friends John Slavinski and Kathy Dagg surprised her.
“They came, and I thought I was going to be here by myself,” Collier said.
Last year, Collier attended with her fiancé to remember her daughter. However, he died due to complications from COVID-19 sometime after, she added.
Slavinski, who’s known Collier for a few years, and Dagg, who’s known Collier for 20 years, knew they had to be in attendance and provide their support. According to Slavinski, the Evening of Remembrance is about heartbreak and honoring loved ones.
“You just have to remember. You can’t ever let it go,” Slavinski said.
The city of Santa Clarita hosts the Evening of Remembrance at Youth Grove in Central Park as a way to honor local youth, 24 and younger, who died in traffic-related incidents, and to remind Santa Clarita Valley residents to drive safely, according to Gabby Vera, volunteer engagement coordinator for the city.
The remembrance began with a walk around Central Park to raise awareness among community members, Vera said. Then the program began with special speakers, performers and a slideshow with the names, ages and pictures of those who being remembered, she added.
“It’s a visual to show people how many lives we’ve lost,” Vera said.
The Evening of Remembrance also serves as way to raise awareness about traffic and driving safely, and hopefully, remind people to be more mindful on the road, according to Vera.
“The more that we raise awareness, the less families will have to mourn together,” Vera said.
Capt. Justin Diez of the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station opened the program with a few remarks. He reiterated 118 youth lives lost in traffic-related incidents is too many.
“It’s my hope that you will join me in reflection and make a pledge to be safe, to be sober and to be focused when driving,” Diez said.
Students of Hart, Saugus, Golden Valley, Castaic and Canyon high schools were in attendance as well, and many served in various roles to make the Evening of Remembrance a success, according to Vera. She also thanked SCV Youth Orchestra for their performance of “Amazing Grace.”
Alice Renolds and her granddaughters gave the closing remarks — Alice lost her two teenage sons more than 20 years ago in a high-speed car crash.
“Our children remain forever young, sadly. Each young life ended in a traffic incident,” Renolds said. “Hopefully, tonight we will be able to reach deep in our hearts and gather some special memories, whether they be few or many. We hope those memories that come to life will bring you some strength.”