November 27, 2018

A mass shooting survivor on how a simple message of hope can comfort a grieving community

Josh Garcia was part of the management team at Pulse nightclub where a gunman killed 49. Now he’s part of a team that spreads hope to fellow survivors.

Messages of hope and love adorn a memorial to the victims of the Pulse nightclub mass shooting that killed 49 people in Orlando in 2016. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

On June 12, 2016, 49 lives were taken and thousands more were directly affected by a senseless act of hate. As part of the management team for the Pulse Nightclub, I thought to myself, “how could this happen in our home of love and acceptance?” Immediately, the world rallied together to show love is stronger than hate and encouraged the community of Orlando to keep hope.

A couple weeks after the tragedy, hope was delivered to our office in the shape of a star. I was first approached by a mother and her two sons. She explained that the stars were Stars of HOPE, created by her company for Orlando’s first responders, survivors, and community members. They were personal pieces of art created to inspire hope. When I said thank you to her children they responded with, “We wanted to let you know we were thinking about everyone.” This was the positive shock I needed!

The next day, I connected with Stars of HOPE volunteers. The volunteers were introduced to the Pulse staff and family members. They delivered stars created by local businesses and survivors of previous tragedies. Small smiles started appearing as they searched through looking for their perfect star.

To this day, those who received a Stars of HOPE continue to be inspired by the kindness of a stranger, the message to maintain hope, and the reminder of love. The Stars of HOPE were not just delivered but were placed around town in trees and fences. This continued to remind me of all of the kindness in the world. Now, Orlando continues to honor the 49 by creating Stars of HOPE for others and spread light during darkness.

A Stars of HOPE participant shares her message of love and kindness at the memorial set up for the shooting victims at Orlando's Pulse nightclub. Photo courtesy of Stars of HOPE.

After tragedy strikes, we often ask the question, “What can I do?” A piece of advice shared with me was to “honor with action”. No matter how old or young, Stars of HOPE is a project that allows you to take action and let others know they are not alone.

Together we create hope, together we heal. Get involved today at

Josh Garcia

Stars of HOPE

Josh joined the Stars of HOPE® program first as a volunteer, demonstrating a tremendous compassion for our mission. He officially joined the team as the Program Manager in 2017 and was promoted to Director of Operations and Programs in early 2018. Josh utilizes his previous experience in operations management, but more importantly as a survivor of a mass shooting and a recipient of Stars of HOPE. Josh lives in Orlando, Florida, and is a new father to his daughter Lennon.