Sometimes in the darkest of times, it is important to find light, seek out the positive and come together as a community. Two years after the shooting at STEM Schools Highlands Ranch, one student did …
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Sometimes in the darkest of times, it is important to find light, seek out the positive and come together as a community. Two years after the shooting at STEM Schools Highlands Ranch, one student did just that in her path to earn the Girl Scouts Gold designation.
Now a senior, Grace Bielefeldt was a sophomore when the shooting occurred on May 7, 2019. Bielefeldt said she can remember being shuffled from the school to the Northridge Recreation Center. To date, she still struggles to go into some of the rec center rooms, especially the tennis courts.
On May 4, in a special art dedication, Bielefeldt returned to the recreation center, only this time she was capping off a two-year effort to bring light and positivity while emphasizing the need for more mental health awareness. The project was also aimed at recognizing the importance of a community coming together in the face of tragedy. The four panels of art focus on the positivity, light, and mental health. The location for the paintings is about community.
Bielefeldt said it came to her when she was trying to figure out what project to do to earn her gold badge. After the shooting, she recalled religious leaders, community leaders and random citizens who gave her quilts, brought food, and just checked on her to see if she was OK.
“This felt like the perfect opportunity to give back to the community that helped me,” she said. “I have a lot of bad memories about this location. I wanted to do something to brighten the area and serve as something positive. I remember after the shooting, during a vigil, students calling for help for mental health. I hope when people look at these paintings, they feel the positive and know they are seen.”
To turn her vision into reality, Bielefeldt commissioned local artist James Holmes. Holmes said out of nowhere, he had this young student contact him with this big idea and once he met Bielefeldt and talked to her, he knew he was on board.
Looking at art as a visual language, Holmes said his top goal was to take Bielefeldt's vision, goals of recognizing mental health and incorporate her own words to encourage community and positivity through a group of paintings.
After collaborating, both Holmes and Bieledfeldt agreed that making each panel represent a season was the best approach.
“This group of paintings is meant to tell a story or share an experience,” Holmes said. “We don't want them to be just a quick glance. We want people to see something different every time they look. Representing winter, spring, summer and fall — they serve as a metaphor or an analogy of what a person goes through in struggling with mental health.”
Holmes admitted there was a lot of pressure to develop images that would suit the cause.
“As I worked on them, I was not always sure I liked what I saw,” Holmes said. “I knew I could not just put the canvas in the corner and forget it. I kept going to turn this wonderful young lady's vision into reality. I had a desired outcome and message to carry out.”
While focusing on the importance of mental health and letting members of the community know no one is alone, Holmes and Bieldefeldt did not want to make it a memorial, but also did not want to forget the victims in the shoooting. The two came to the agreement to place a subtle but meaningful tribute in one of the panels. That tribute is a small heart in the sky of panel No. 2.
In seeing the panels, Douglas County Commissioner Lora Thomas said she is blown away not just by the work Holmes produced, but with the message and dedication shown by Bielefeldt.
“Just look at all the badges on her vest,” she said, “that alone demonstrates her drive and dedication throughout her entire life.”
Douglas County Sheriff's Office Chief Steve Johnson said, “It is inspirational for all of us to see this young lady take such bold steps to embrace tragedy.”
By special invitation from Bieldefeldt, former Columbine High School Principal Frank DeAngelis spoke about surviving tragedy and getting help when needed.
DeAngelis said students like Bielefedlt are special in “changing our lives every day.” DeAngelis said just like he found in 1999 after the Columbine shooting, the community is strong, people are strong, and they can heal.
In working to heal, DeAngelis said an important thing to remember is that getting counseling and admitting to needing help is not a weakness. Instead, he said, it is a sign of strength.
“It is a marathon and not a sprint,” he said. "There's going to be some journeys. There is going to be some ups and downs. Just never give up.”
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