The Tarpon Springs community and dozens of kids are still trying to heal after losing a beloved after-school program mentor.
Leilanie Ortiz, 26, was killed in a motorcycle accident July 30. Now, some of the young people she impacted are determined to keep her memory alive.
"Miss Lo was one of the most loving, warm-hearted people," said John Wisner.
At only 11 years old, John Wisner already knows the powerful impact of having someone who is a positive influence in your life.
"She was one of the best people I've ever met, and I miss her," he said.
Wisner is one of the dozens of students in the past six years mentored at the Cops 'N Kids after-school program by youth specialist Leilanie Ortiz, know to them as 'Miss Lo'.
"She changed my life by telling me that whenever I thought I couldn't do something, she helped me know I could do it," said Wisner.
Ortiz died less than two weeks ago in a motorcycle accident on the Courtney Campbell Causeway. Before her story fades from the headlines, the many young people she mentored are determined to keep her memory alive.
"We think she needs to have something really good because she was a very special person," said Wisner.
Wisner and his mom came up with the idea of building a gazebo in the area beside Cops 'N Kids in Tarpon Springs, because Ortiz loved to garden and spend time outdoors.
"She was just that big of an impact to Cops 'N Kids and the community. If the children had something they needed to talk about and couldn't speak to their parents, they could go to Miss Lo anytime," said parent Jamie Anchor.
They envision the gazebo in a park-like setting that would be a place of comfort for anyone -- and for the children of Cops 'N Kids to know 'Miss Lo' is still watching over them.
"Thank you Miss Lo. Thank you for keeping me safe, and thank you for being part of my life and helping me," said Wisner.
The agencies that oversee Cops 'N Kids are currently looking into getting the needed approvals for the park to be built.
Two car washes are already planned to raise money for the gazebo. They're scheduled for August 27 and September 3 from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Advanced Auto Parts, 718 E. Tarpon Ave. in Tarpon Springs. All donations are welcome, and volunteers are also needed. You can contact Kathy Hatch at 727-641-6316 to learn more.
Robbin Sotleo Redd, Director of the Tarpon Springs Housing Authority which oversees the Cops 'N Kids program, also released the following statement:
"No words can describe how special Miss Lo was to our team and the youth we serve every day. We can only imagine the pain her family is facing and hope the joy she exuded can continue to bring them peace. This is a significant loss to our staff team, youth and the community of families whose lives Miss Lo touched. Her dedication to her role as mentor, teacher and colleague was invaluable. She was the most loving, patient, graceful, spunky young woman with great wisdom and confidence. Her drive to accomplish her professional goals and grit for life’s journey was admired by all around her. She will be greatly missed."