From Darkness into Light

Creating the Gina Rose Montalto Gold Award Scholarship

Written by Jennifer Montalto

 Five years ago, our daughter Gina Rose Montalto, went to school at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on Valentine’s Day. It struck her father Tony and I as adorable, how ninth graders still reveled in this pink-drenched day celebrating teenage relationships with teddy bears, balloons, flowers, hearts, and of course, candy. We had readied chocolate roses for Gina to take to school as we sat that morning at the breakfast table – our Valentine’s Day tradition. Off she went! Little did we know that within a few hours, February 14 would come to symbolize something different for us and the entire community when a gunman took Gina and 16 others from our lives.

Jennifer Montalto (seated) with her daughter Gina Rose Montalto.

Our Gina was like a light in the dark. She was generous of spirit, and genuine of heart. She was a talented artist, avid reader, active volunteer (especially for causes helping children), successful student, high school color guard team member, and of course, a Girl Scout. 

Whether punishment or a gift, time marched on following that terrible day. It took some time for us to discover how we believed Gina should, and would like to be, remembered. In her short 14 years, Gina had the ability to make connections with people from all walks of life. She was able to touch others in a personal and meaningful way. Honestly, she lit up a room! Gina was always first to say hello and welcome new friends, Gina was truly magnetic. She was a loving daughter to us, a kind and protective big sister, and a cherished member of our entire extended family.  

Gina had been a Girl Scout since kindergarten. She loved the camaraderie and enjoyed service projects and camping with her troop. By freshman year she was already thinking, and regularly chatting about, earning the Gold Award. Like most Girl Scouts her age, she had a lot of potential project ideas. We would smile, and often say “Oh, sweetheart, you’ve got some time for that.” She didn’t. Gina’s hopes of achieving The Gold Award were left unfulfilled, but her dreams of it went on to inspire us. 

Shortly after her murder, we began establishing ways we wanted others to remember Gina, not just the circumstances surrounding her death. Those details were hard to ignore—but Gina was much more than that dark day and we vowed to remember her and celebrate her life and her special light. With our family, we founded the Gina Rose Montalto Memorial Foundation. It has allowed us to remember Gina and support the things, people, and organizations she adored! Naturally, we thought of the Girl Scouts first. In 2019, we created a partnership with the Southeast Florida council to support all the scouts earning the National Silver and Gold Awards.

When Gina was working to earn The Silver Award with her troop, the council didn’t have a ceremony or event to celebrate these girls and their unique projects. The Foundation has allowed us to change that, by sponsoring the annual Silver Award Showcase. It is so much fun to meet the middle school Girl Scouts at this event. Each one has the opportunity to “show off” their project and has her moment in the spotlight to shine on stage as she receives her official pin. We wouldn’t miss it!

The Gina Rose Montalto Gold Award Scholarship has transformed our lives from the beginning. Our family has been overwhelmed in the best ways, and brought to tears of joy when we read the application essays from these amazing Girl Scouts. There’s nothing easy about selecting the annual recipient because we see the light that Gina had shining so brightly from other girls who are a lot like her. Our first four scholarship recipients are like an extended family to us, and we simply adore them all: Jillian Meloro (2019), Rachel Vogel (2020), Amanda Kopelman (2021), and Julia Yu (2022). 

Now, just two months into this unfathomable fifth year without our daughter, Tony and I are honored to announce a special change to the 2023 Gina Rose Montalto Gold Award Scholarship. This year the Foundation is able to award a four-year scholarship to a public university within the Florida College system. Based on the current in-state credit cost, this scholarship is valued at approximately $25,000. We know this scholarship is going to have a monumentally positive effect on the life of the Girl Scout who receives it. We also know that Gina’s light still shines by helping others achieve their goals! We so proud to have Gina’s bright life remembered with such a transformational opportunity and we’re excited to meet this year’s applicants. 

Would you like to learn more about the local scholarships offered to Girl Scouts of Southeast Florida? The Gina Rose Montalto Gold Award Scholarship, along side five other opportunities, are now open to Girl Scouts in our area. Learn more at!

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