Shooting didn’t break community’s strong bonds

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To the Editor:

Smith Mountain Lake is an amazing community, and I’m so proud to be recognized as one of its leaders. The tragedy on Aug. 26 that claimed the lives of talented WDBJ7 journalists Alison Parker and Adam Ward thrust our community into an international spotlight. There were so many questions left unanswered.

The intense media coverage — local, regional, state, national, even international — served a purpose, and that was to tell the story of how our community responded with strength and dignity. Senseless acts of violence happen all too often. While circumstances may be different, the act is always unexpected and often misunderstood. In many cases, communities are divided, destroyed and left with an unshakeable dark shadow because residents are unprepared and don’t know how else to vent their grief and frustration. 

That was not the case with Smith Mountain Lake. I can say with pride that as a direct result of this horrific act, an incredible number of lake residents have reached out to meet new “neighbors” and develop new friendships. A powerful shield of respect now blankets our region, serving as a reminder of the sacrifice members of our law enforcement community and rescue crews provide 24/7.  We witnessed prompt action and support by businesses, organizations and individuals. The hashtag #SMLStrong was created and brought to life with amazing speed and pride.

The Day of Remembrance on Sept. 19 at Bridgewater Plaza, the site of the shooting, was perhaps the most visible testimony to the strength of the Smith Mountain Lake community with hundreds turning out in bright blue T-shirts emblazoned with #SMLStrong to honor Adam and Alison and see a permanent memorial to them unveiled. Watching everyone join hands to embrace the plaza was truly inspirational and an important step on our road to healing.

I can’t say thank you enough for the support shown to me in my recovery. Cards, flowers and gifts have arrived from all over the world and are a definite boost to my spirits. I wish I could respond to all, but the volume is overwhelming, so just know that each and every gesture is so appreciated! Generous donations also continue to arrive at the Chamber for “Vicki’s Vision,” a project I hope to be able to share more details on soon. In a nutshell, the goal is to create a much-needed gathering spot that will be not only a tremendous benefit to the region, but a lasting tribute to Alison and Adam.

The healing process is slow, but I am feeling stronger each day and am eager to return to doing the job I love: promoting Smith Mountain Lake! Participating in all of the events scheduled to celebrate SML’s 50th anniversary — now just a few months away — provides a powerful incentive for me. I hope you’ll find out more about how you can be part of the excitement at http://www.VisitSmithMountainLake.com. 

Senseless acts of violence will not end here. We cannot change what has happened, and there is nothing we can do that will bring Alison and Adam back to their loved ones. However, the community of Smith Mountain Lake can continue to serve as a worldwide example of how unity, leadership and vision can make a community stronger, its members closer than ever.
Stay #SMLStrong,

Vicki Gardner
Executive director
Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce

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