After Dylan Schopp took his own life at Markham Park in Sunrise last February, his family formed an organization to raise money and draw awareness to suicide prevention. The Dylan Schopp Foundation's inaugural Sunshine at the Park fundraiser marked the foundation's first anniversary by celebrating the life of the beloved 21-year-old.

Dylan's mother Debbie Schopp tried to hold back tears when remembering her son and talking about the importance of the day, saying she was overwhelmed by those who came out to support the cause.

"I can't even put it into words," she said. "It's amazing. We've celebrated his birthday here. We helped with a butterfly garden in the park and have a memorial bench for Dylan. You can feel the love from everybody here. He touched a lot of people."

The family-friendly event featured a BB3 Fitness Circuit Challenge, YMCA Zumba class, YFIT for the kids and a Smart Fit Party. Other festivities included a rock climbing wall, karate demonstration and bounce houses.

A silent auction had around 70 entries up for grabs like the opportunity to see Stephen Colbert, Miami Heat tickets, Florida Panthers tickets, luxury jewelry, a week-long cruise and sports memorabilia. Proceeds benefit organizations such as the Weston-based Florida Initiative for Suicide Prevention. The foundation has worked with FISP on its Helping Overcome Problems Effectively (HOPE) programs in South Florida schools.

"Most of our mission is to raise awareness of suicide prevention, and mental illness ties into that," said Dylan's sister, Dara. "Also, we want to continue to help causes Dylan was passionate about. We donate to the Humane Society, Operation Smile and other places. People would often comment how Dylan had such a great smile, so we want to give that to other kids."

The exercise component to the gathering was another connection to Dylan. The family recalled him seeing Markham Park as a second home, his safe place.

"Dylan was a workout freak," said David, Dylan's father. "We would ride bikes here and jet ski. So this park is made up of so many happy memories. Having all the places he went to growing up to stay active in Weston be a part of it means a lot. He was a special kid and one of those people you wanted to be around. He was an inspiration, a light."

Music provided an uplifting feel to the proceedings. Jake Miller's "Sunshine" was played regularly. The recording artist was among Dylan's good friends in Weston and at Cypress Bay High School. Miller wrote "Sunshine" as a tribute to Dylan, with the title a reference to the nickname given to him by his wrestling coach. Attendees wrote personal notes on yellow balloons, which were then released as a way to send love into the sky.

Julia Lurvey, a friend of Dara and Dylan, was emotional while getting ready for the event.

"I loved him to death," Lurvey said of Dylan. "His presence is felt by pretty much everyone who is here. I loved him and will support anything for the cause. When I heard the song Jake Miller wrote for him, it kind of sunk in and brought everything out."

Brandon Plotnick had been friends with Dylan since elementary school. Much like members of the Schopp family, he and another friend got tattoos in his honor during Mardi Gras. Plotnick's tattoo features Dylan's initials with the time span of his life, placed specifically on Plotnick's back, he says, to show Dylan always had his back.

"It's surreal to be here, but it's also enjoyable to see everyone come back together to support a cause that not only was dear to us but to a lot of people," he said. "Hopefully, this effort can enact some change and affect people's lives in a positive way."


Written by Scott Fishman, this story originally appeared in the Sun Sentinel on March 21, 2016.