(WSVN) - Many of the students returning to class at Gateway Environmental K-8 Learning Center in Homestead are too young to know Kathy Diaz’s name, but they walk in the footsteps of what she helped build.

Demoree Lopez Perez, niece: “Gateway was her second home, and she spent a majority of her time there.”

Kathy was a teacher and founding member of the school when it opened in 2009.

Demoree Lopez Perez: “She would open up her office to students who were bullied.”

She was later promoted to assistant principal.

Demoree Lopez Perez: “Just two days before she passed, she was in hospice. She ran a staff meeting from her hospice bed.”

Kathy died on Sept. 24, 2020, after battling stage 4 pancreatic cancer.

She was just 38 years old.

Demoree Lopez Perez: “So I wanted her legacy to continue.”

Kathy’s niece, Demoree Lopez Perez, set out on a mission that would take a year and a half to complete. A labor of love to make sure her aunt’s impact lived on, on the street in front of the school.

Demoree spoke in front of the city council, submitted letters from students and staff and started an online petition that got nearly 2,000 signatures.

Demoree got it done.

Last month, hundreds of friends, family and coworkers showed up at a ceremony to mark the occasion.

Tania Gamez, friend: “She absolutely loved the school and everyone and everything with it.”

Some shared stories.

Celinett Rivera, sister: “Kathy, being stage 4 pancreatic cancer, having, battling chemo that week, came to work dressed as Clifford the Big Red Dog.”

Among those who spoke, were Kathy’s former students.

Catherine Hong, former student: “When people saw troubled kids, she saw masterpieces with potential that didn’t fit in society’s standard.”

Rafael Perez, former student: “I’m glad that I can pass by and see her name all the time, any time.”

Then it was time to make it official.

The late educator’s 12-year-old son, Jeremy, removed the covering designating a portion of Southwest 162nd Avenue as “Kathy Diaz Street.”

Demoree Lopez Perez: “The new students will ask, who is Kathy Diaz?”

The answer:

Demoree Lopez Perez: “They’ll know that she was a person who inspired others. She was a hero.”

Kathy Diaz’s favorite tree was the Tabebuia. Her ashes were spread at the base of multiple trees her family planted.

If you would like to donate in Kathy’s memory to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, click here.

Karen Hensel, 7News.

If you know someone, some group or some place we should spotlight, send us an email at 7spotlight@wsvn.com. We’d love to hear from you.

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