Finding hope in tragedy, family and friends of Reema Samaha — victim in the April 16, 2007 campus shootings — founded the Angel Fund in 2007.
“My family is very close with the Samaha family," said Lu Ann McNabb, co-founder of the Angel Fund. "Reema was like a daughter to me.”
Angel Fund is a non-profit organization created to address the many complex issues that contributed to the Virginia Tech tragedy: mental illness, campus safety and security, lack of information sharing and privacy laws.
Although they originally sought to address these specific issues, the Angel Fund has since evolved and has begun addressing other issues affecting the community.
“What happened over the years is that we began noticing issues impacting our community here in Centreville and Chantilly, (including) a number of students committing suicide or who attempted suicide,” McNabb said. "There have been surveys done by Fairfax County that show that one-third of Fairfax County students suffer from depression. That was a big issue for us."
After working with the issues contributing to the tragedy at Tech and noticing the tragedies affecting the community closer to home, the Angel Fund decided to “re-vamp” its program by narrowing the programs focus to mental healthand how it affects campus safety.
“Aware of the tragedies we witnessed in western Fairfax County, we decided to create a board of community leaders to address these issues,” McNabb said.
The mission of the Angel Fund is to make a difference through advocacy, education and implementation of programs.
According to the program's website, it seeks to “educate Virginia citizens on those issues, advocate for changes to Virginia’s policies and laws and implement practical solutions to prevent another tragedy.“
The foundation is currently working on three pieces of legislation: two addressing the recommendations of the Virginia College Mental Health Study, and the third addressing threat assessment teams. It is also working on organizing town hall discussions and panels to discuss the issues affecting the mental health of students in the community.
In addition to these, the Angel Fund facilitated the implementation of the program Actively Caring for People. This program was created by psychology professor E. Scott Geller and his students. Its participants recognize individuals preforming acts of kindness by passing on a green wristband and has been recently implemented in Westfield High School, Mount Vernon High School and Stone Middle School.
Every year, the Angel Fund holds a cabaret at Westfield High School in honor of Reema. The Remembrance Cabaret for Reema draws family, friends, alumni and current students from Westfield and Herndon high schools and Tech to sing, dance, perform skits, and play musical instruments. The recipient of the Contemporary Dance Ensemble of Virginia Tech's Reema J. Samaha Memorial Scholarship performs every year.
“Reema loved dance and theater, and the Cabaret was started by her friends and family who wanted to honor her in some way," McNabb said. "So her friends in theater and her dance friends from both in Centreville and at Tech got together and even wrote songs dedicated to her and dances dedicated to her.”