By KAYLA J. MARSH
WEST LONG BRANCH — A local Eagle Scout project is paying homage to a former Shore Regional High School student who battled cancer for more than 18 months before passing away in November of 2014.
On May 25, family, friends, students, faculty and local officials came out to support the dedication of a new memorial butterfly garden on Shore Regional property in honor of Alex Muñoz, a member of the Shore Regional Class of 2016 from Oceanport.
“When thinking and planning my Eagle Scout project, I knew I wanted to do something with Alex to honor [him] in some way,” said Bryan O’Donnell, Eagle Scout candidate and a Shore Regional junior who built the memorial in his peer’s honor.
“I had many ideas when considering this project [and] I really wanted my project to be … something that would bring happiness and beauty to our school and community [which] was where the idea for the garden came from.”
O’Donnell coordinated the volunteers, donations, labor and all aspects involved with building the garden, which borders Franklin Lake on the school’s property.
“From start to finish, it was a group effort by many people,” O’Donnell said. “Alex brought us together, and I am really happy for that.”
The garden is filled with flowering plants such as pincushion and New England Aster to attract butterflies for walkers around Franklin Lake and the Shore community and is shaped to look like the letter “A” for Alex.
A bench was also built and placed at the site for people to stop and enjoy the view and remember the young man the garden is in honor of.
O’Donnell added that the project was funded with a generous donation from Shore Regional’s Class of 2016.
“I personally never met Alex. I didn’t have the pleasure of being with him in class, being with him at lunch, sitting next to him at a table or hanging out as friends [but] I really wish I had,” O’Donnell said.
“Shore [Regional] and the community really made me feel like I did know him and had that personal connection with him. The environment in our school was such that all of us were impacted by him, we all felt connected [to him].
“This is a tribute to the school we have, community we live in, his family and of course Alex himself.”
The dedication of the new memorial butterfly garden saw the parents of Alex, Fabrizio and Laura, cutting into blue and white ribbons, which symbolize Shore Regional colors, as well as gray ribbons for brain cancer awareness.
“You have done an incredibly special thing here,” Fabrizio Muñoz told O’Donnell at the dedication. “I’ll be honest with you, when I heard about the prospect of an Eagle Scout candidate coming up with a project such as this, I didn’t know what to expect … [but] you have done a credit to yourself, you have done a credit to the community the way you’ve put this together, and our entire family is incredibly thankful for what has taken place here.”
O’Donnell said he hopes his project spreads the memory of Alex in a permanent, peaceful, happy way and hopes it raises awareness that cancer can affect more than just a family, it can affect a community.
“I hope all [who] walk the path at Franklin Lake, look out our school windows or drive through the campus get a glimpse at the garden and enjoy it,” he said.
“Alex was certainly an inspiration for bringing the school and community together, and I hope that people remember him here, even those that did not know him.
“It is my hope that Alex’s memory and inspiration will provide peace, happiness and beauty to those who visit this garden.”