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Remembering Alina Sheykhet

by Eleanor Withers

A screenshot of AlinasLight.com, the charity organization Alina's parents created in her memory. Alina's Light will be holding a virtual concert called "Volume Up!" on Oct. 4.

Alina Sheykhet was a 20-year-old Pitt-Greensburg student who transferred to the Oakland campus in 2017. She was studying to become a physical therapist. She remembered the kindness she had been shown when she injured her knee as a teen, and wanted to spread that to others.

Sadly, on Oct. 8 2017,  Sheykhet’s life was cut short when her ex-boyfriend, Matthew Darby,  broke the restraining order she had against him and killed her in her apartment in Oakland.  Darby has since been tried and sentenced for her death.

In the past, Pitt-Greensburg held lantern releases and a charity walk, Walk A Mile in Her Shoes, to increase awareness of domestic violence. The money raised during the event went to the Blackburn Center, a service helping victims of domestic and sexual violence in Westmoreland County.

Now, due to COVID- 19, Pitt-Greensburg is unable to host events honoring Sheykhet like the ones it’s had in the past.

Brian Root, assistant director of Housing and Residence Life, is also the advisor of the Outdoor Adventure and Community Service club (OACS), which Sheykhet was a member of in her time at Pitt-Greensburg.

“It’s been hard to plan anything too far in advance this year because you don’t know what the following weeks will look like,” Root said.

This has made it difficult to plan something campus-wide that also follows the University’s safety guidelines. Nevertheless, the OACS will still be holding an outdoors lantern ceremony open only to club members this October.

“I think it would be meaningful to the group just to do something a little smaller,” Root said.

All activities in OACS depend on the club members’ decisions.

“They’re aware of the story and when they hear the story, they’re touched and want to keep that story alive,” Root said, “and make sure that we’re honoring her memory.”

There are also future plans to discuss a fundraiser for Alina’s Light. Alina’s Light, the charity organization her parents, Yan and Elly founded in her honor, are altering their events to keep everyone safe.

The annual Walk/Run for Love event has been postponed until 2021, but Alina’s Light is holding a virtual concert on Zoom on Oct. 4.

Alina’s Light was created to keep their daughter’s light alive through helping others, specifically causes they knew their daughter was passionate about, like animals and children.

“When we see people remember her, it helps us,” Alina’s father, Yan Sheykhet, said.

The Sheykhets knew how difficult this year has been because of the pandemic. Instead of giving a scholarship to one of the graduates at Alaina’s former school, Montour Highschool, which they usually do, they awarded all nine students who qualified.

Alina’s Light also donated $1,000 to The Women’s Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh this year to supply resources to women and children who experienced domestic violence.

As well as donating money and services to honor Alina’s memory, the Sheykhets also fight to get House Bill 588, known as Alina’s Law, passed.

Alina’s Law will make it possible for people who have a restraining order filed against them to wear monitoring devices, which will enforce their legally required distance from those who filed restraining orders against them. Supporters of the law say it will make victims of domestic violence feel safer, as well as speed up authorities’ response time.

Although this pandemic changed the events that would normally be held, it is important to remember Alina Sheykhet’s spirit and celebrate all the light she possessed and left in the world.

You can learn more about Alina’s Light or donate to the organization here.

If you or someone you know needs domestic abuse resources, you can contact the Blackburn Center here.

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