Students at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) have turned a swath of dirt into a flowering peace garden – a memorial to nine NJIT alumni who died in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The Memorial Peace Garden features a peace pole, a plaque and a quadrangle of flowers - lilies, roses and mums. The students started working on the garden last year, and it was unveiled today during a brief memorial service.
“It took us a year to design and plant the garden,” said Lee Nel, a major in architecture from Morristown. “But it was worth the work. It’s such a peaceful and subdued memorial to the NJIT alumni who lost their lives.” (Read more about the nine alumni by clicking (http://www.njit.edu/news/2003/2003-092.php).
Nel, a member of the Alpha Sigma Tau (AST) sorority and president of the NJIT student branch of Habitat For Humanity, said members of both groups helped her design and plant the garden.
Lauren Young, another major in architecture from Tuckahoe, helped build the garden wall, fill in the soil and plant the flowers. She, too, belongs to both AST and Habitat for Humanity.
“The garden is really cool,” Young said. “Students on campus notice it and ask, ‘who built that garden?’ It’s nice to know that we did it.”
The garden is just one example of the good deeds performed by AST and Habitat for Humanity, Young said. The sorority donates and serves food at St. John’s Soup Kitchen, Newark; raises money to support a poor Appalachian school - the Pine Mountain Settlement School, in Harland County, Kentucky; and has built and outfitted a playroom for children who live in St. Rocco’s Shelter, Newark.
Asked why she is instilled with a volunteeristic spirit, Young pauses for thought: “I’ve always just been interested in helping people,” she said.
Maggie Vallejos, a biomedical engineering major from Carteret, is equally infused with the need to help others. She, too, worked on the peace garden at NJIT. And she, too, is a member of both groups – AST and Habitat For Humanity. She spent time tilling the soil, planting the flowers, helping the garden bloom. More than anything in life, Vallejos loves children, and she feels the most sorrow for children who lost parents on Sept. 11.
When Vallejo graduates from NJIT, she wants to devote her life to children. She intends to be either a pediatrician or a teacher: “Or both,” she said, smiling. As it is, she devotes much time to children. She is a volunteer at the Children’s Life Unit at Beth Israel Medical Center, Newark. When there, she reads and plays and comforts children with terminal diseases such as AIDs and cancer. She is also a volunteer teacher at Vailsburg Middle School, Newark, teaching math and science to students who need help in those subjects. And on this afternoon, the second anniversary of 9/11, she sat behind a booth with her fellow sorority sisters, Nel and Young, selling baked goods - proceeds from which will go to the 9/11 Relief Fund.
“We are doing what we can to help and remember those who died on 9/11,” Vallejos said. “Every little bit helps.”