By Sue Botos
Everyone knows it’s hard to take a break from hectic everyday demands, let alone find a quiet place to get in touch with your thoughts. But thanks to a Rocky River Boy Scout, such a spot now exists on the Rocky River Middle School campus. It not only offers a place of contemplation, but honors a student gone too soon.
Tucked between the seventh- and eighth-grade wings is a wooden bench surrounded by small trees and flowers. A plaque behind the bench reads “May we never forget the young lives lost before their time” and is engraved with the name of Sabreen Haq, a student who died of an inoperable malignant brain tumor at the end of her eighth-grade year in 2010.
Although her classmate Will Spallino did not know her well, he felt deeply moved by Haq’s death, and decided to do something in her memory. “It really rocked my world, the fact that someone my age is going to die. It was just whirling around in my head and I was searching for a way to express how I felt,” said Spallino, 17, at a dedication ceremony last week for the memorial.
Spallino, now finishing his sophomore year at Rocky River High School, decided to express his feelings through his Eagle Scout Leadership Service Project. A scout since first grade, Spallino said he has stuck with it long after most boys his age have dropped out because “the Scout laws and virtues speak to me.”
“I felt like I needed a sanctuary and thought of providing a place for others as well,” he added.
Planning for the project began in October 2010, a few months after Haq’s death. Spallino, a member of Boy Scout Troop 605, approached then-middle school Principal Sam Gifford, who offered to have the guidance department reach out to the Haq family.
“I didn’t meet with her family face to face. She has a sister in my grade, and a brother in seventh grade, and I kind of spoke with her (Haq’s sister) about it,” said Spallino, adding that he didn’t want to upset the family, which was still healing from its ordeal. Through communication with the guidance department, Spallino knew that they were happy with the project.
After approval from the school and maintenance staff, Spallino filed the appropriate paperwork with the Boy Scouts, and received the go-ahead from scouting authorities.
Next followed more than a year’s worth of fundraising, which netted more than $4,000 – more than enough to complete the project. “It was symbiotic. My faith helped me get through the project,” said Spallino. He called a benefit held during Spirit Night at Chick-fil-A at Westgate Shopping Center a “God moment,” when he saw the large number of people stopping in to support his work.
Spallino also received backing from residents, local businesses, school administrators, and the faculty and staff of the middle school and high school. During his remarks before the unveiling of the plaque, Spallino especially thanked Rich Thomas and the maintenance staff and science teacher Jenneva Hill, whose eighth-grade classes planted flowers around the memorial. He also presented $973.93 from the school’s Scholastic Book Fair to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which granted Haq’s wish of a trip to Disney World. Despite her illness, Spallino said that Haq wanted to have a party to thank Make-A-Wish for the trip.
Although not yet sure of his plans for college, Spallino hopes to become a “music educator or prosthetic engineer.”
“I love the idea of using the gifts God gave me to help other people,” said Spallino, a member of Rockport United Methodist Church. He also plays trombone in the school band and was captain of the Academic Challenge Team.
During his remarks, Jon Fancher, school board member and pastor of Rocky River Presbyterian Church, called the spot an “oasis of calm.” Now students and residents will not only have a chance to take time out of their busy schedules to enjoy this oasis, but recall a young person gone before her time.