Six years after 49 lives were lost in the mass shooting at Pulse nightclub, a lasting message of love and strength resonates through the work of the industry leaders who came together in their honor.
The onePULSE Foundation was created to provide a source of healing and support for Orlando and beyond, while ensuring the lives lost on June 12, 2016, are never forgotten. Winter Park residents Vicki Berman, commercial real estate lawyer with Dean Mead, and Mark Cosgrove, partner at Capital Strategies Group, are among those guiding the mission on the nonprofit’s Board of Trustees.
“As a member of the LGBTQ community and a Central Floridian for my whole life, Pulse was devastating,” Berman said. “I wanted to do something.”
As the foundation formed in the weeks following the tragedy, she and Cosgrove were approached by mutual friend and onePULSE Board Chairman Earl Crittenden, of GrayRobinson, P.A., regarding their involvement. A meeting with Pulse nightclub owner Barbara Poma soon followed.
“When you meet with Barbara you want to do anything you can to help,” Cosgrove said. “I’ve been involved with nonprofits for years and I had never seen this level of commitment and passion.”
Members meet quarterly as a board but their seats on onePULSE committees require much more attention. “We can sometimes meet twice-a-month depending on what we’re discussing,” Cosgrove said.
The foundation is best known for its efforts to create a national memorial and museum; a goal that Berman and Cosgrove are particularly suited to achieve.
“I initially chaired the design and construction committee because, when our work started, we were looking to acquire real estate,” said Berman. “As a real estate lawyer, my background was very helpful, and I am now a real estate subcommittee of one.”
“The effort went from land acquisition to design, then to finding the guys who know how to build it, and then shaping it in terms of the budget,” said Cosgrove, whose background in corporate banking and financial advisement made him an obvious pick for the finance committee.
“At first, we saw more local money with some coming from out of town,” Cosgrove said. “It has become an international project with big corporate names along with grass roots organizations. Once they effectively hear our message, they want to be a part of it.”
“Fundraising is always a challenge, and COVID put a hiccup in everything that everyone had been working on,” Berman said. “But we can’t just sit and wait until we have all the money in place to do our work.”
Aside from developing the memorial, onePULSE offers ongoing support for the families and survivors of the attack, promotes inclusion and acceptance through community programs, provides academic opportunity through an annual legacy scholarship program, and reaches out to the growing list of communities affected by mass shootings.
“Pulse was among the first, but every time this happens to another community, we have reached out to them, or they call us,” Cosgrove said. “We have dialogue with all of them, and we send support and love the way our community received it.”
“It’s a nasty club to be part of but we all communicate and support one another,” Berman said. “Everybody shares the genuine, fervent desire to do something to deal with the ubiquity of these events.”
OnePULSE Foundation recently announced its third class of the 49 Legacy Scholarships. The program is designed to help those who share the interests and dreams of each person lost in the shooting, to further their own goals. Among the 2022 recipients is Winter Park resident Jack Jordan.
Jordan, who grew up in South Florida and came out as non-binary at the age of 16, is pursuing a degree at the University of Central Florida School of Social Work.
“I was searching for local scholarships that would help me stay involved with my community and found one connected with Pulse, which is very close to my heart,” Jordan said. “As someone who is Black and Puerto Rican, finding out what happened that night was rough for me.”
Jordan’s immediate response to the shootings was to open their home as a safe space for community support. “You can hold onto your grief but also realize you are resilient, and sometimes you just have to be in a space with each other to acknowledge that.”
The desire and the personal experience to foster that resilience is what inspired Jordan’s decision to become a social worker.
“I grew up feeling disempowered by government entities that over-policed my family’s situation and treated us like statistics,” they said. “When I came out I was severely depressed, literally not eating. I could talk to my mother, but if I didn’t have social workers with LGBTQ focus and not immediately policing my homelife, I wouldn’t be alive today. For me, it makes sense to become that social worker for someone else.”
“When I think about the 49, I feel our message is about reaching out to people like Jack and his peers,” Berman said.
And it’s that message that represents the long-term plan for onePULSE.
“After we rotate off the board, the memorial museum will still be a beacon for these messages even if the specific way they are shared evolves over time,” said Berman.
“It’s not just one conversation, it’s an ongoing relationship,” said Cosgrove. “You need the programming and the educational components to be long term. The story changes with the time.”