Paper may be the traditional gift for a first wedding anniversary, but for those involved with Hearts of Hope, something in ceramic may be even more appropriate.
Barb Tarpey and her two daughters were among a few dozen people who attended the first anniversary gathering of the Hearts of Hope-Newtown chapter on June 18. She and her daughters were in the hall of Newtown United Methodist Church to paint palm-sized ceramic hearts for the first time Wednesday evening, and Mom was having a little trouble deciding where to begin.
“I just don’t know what I’m going to paint,” said Mrs Tarpey. On either side of her, daughters Paige and Meghan were bouncing in their chairs, alternating between adding paint to the ceramic hearts in front of them and looking toward the doors of the hall, where local therapy dogs continued to enter. Most of the dogs were familiar to many in attendance, having been in town for nearly 18 months and making friends of all ages during their visits.
Hearts of Hope was launched in January 2002, in response to 9/11. It is a pay it forward program where people paint clay hearts and then deliver them to others and places that have gone through a tragedy or are in need of a positive message. As of May 14, according to the HOH website, more than 45,380 Hearts of Hope have been created and shared across the country — at least 10,000 in the past year alone.
Each heart is put into a maroon nylon bag, with a notecard from the painter to the recipient, along with a note about Hearts of Hope. The nylon bag is then put into a clear cellophane envelope so that the entire package is protected if hearts are hung in public places in inclement weather. The hearts are meant to be found and taken home by those who find them.
Hearts of Hope made their first appearance in Newtown on February 13, 2013, when volunteers canvassed the town with thousands of the painted hearts, accompanied by messages of hope. The hearts had been painted during painting events across the country, and shipped to Newtown.
The volunteers, including Judy Pedersen, director of Hearts of Hope, hung the colorful hearts around town so that residents would find them on Valentine’s Day, the two-month anniversary of 12/14.
“We don’t want to focus on the pain of the second month anniversary of that terrible incident,” Judy Vetare, a resident who helped organize the February delivery, told The Bee in January 2013. “On February 14, we want to focus on the outpouring of love from every corner of the country being directed to all of us here in Newtown.”
In May 2013, Newtown residents were invited to pay it forward when they had the first opportunity to paint hearts, to be taken to Boston and Watertown, Mass., following the bombings on April 15 at the Boston Marathon and the shoot-out with the bombing suspects a few days later.
Residents responded quickly and productively. Painting parties in Newtown, at public locations and private homes, resulted in well over 1,200 hearts being painted and shipped to Massachusetts by May 20.
On July 17, the Newtown group became recognized as the first official chapter of Hearts of Hope. With Sue Shaw serving as president of the local chapter, monthly painting parties began being held in the NUMC church hall. All ages have attended the events, where long tables have been covered with paper, paint and brushes are put out, and guests are encouraged to paint with their heart. Designs range from the simple to extremely detailed. Hearts have had words and symbols, designs and patterns, all sharing messages of hope and positive thinking.
In addition, HOH-Newtown has appeared at public events, bringing their ceramic hearts to an ever-widening audience. Volunteers have been at the Newtown Arts Festival, A Day of Kindness, Relay For Life and The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Light The Night event, among other special events.
In December, Ms Pedersen thanked the residents of Newtown for welcoming her and the Hearts of Hope program “to your beautiful town during my first visit to Newtown last February and in the months since then,” she wrote in a letter published in The Newtown Bee. “Newtown is filled with such caring and compassionate individuals, and the kindness of each of you has touched my heart in ways I could never fully express.
“In our newly formed Hearts of Hope Newtown chapter, we have seen neighbors caring for neighbors, friends going above and beyond, and people reaching out to strangers with both caring actions and words,” her letter continued. “This community has faced challenges most never do. Nonetheless, people fervently choose love with a deep commitment that shows love always wins. In a place where pain and sorrow is very real, there is such drive to pay it forward to individuals, groups, and locations where tragedy and devastation have changed life’s path. … It has been an honor to be welcomed into a community such as this.”
She looked forward, she said, to seeing what the new year brought for the local chapter and what she called its “tiny treasures, to give away within this community — and everywhere.”
A New Year Of Reaching Out
During its first event of the new year, guests who attended the January 15 HOH-Newtown painting party were asked to consider making a donation to FAITH Food Pantry. The result was a collection of non-perishables and cash — along with a collection of painted hearts to go into bags for FAITH’s clients — for the non-ecumenical pantry located in the undercroft of nearby St John’s Episcopal Church.
In May, dozens of hearts were taken to Milford, and hung on a tree for those attending the dedication for the Where Angels Play playground built in memory of James Mattioli.
Hearts from Newtown have been sent to Moore, Okla.; Prescott, Ariz.; Yale Children’s Hospital and Connecticut Children’s Medical Center. Recent hearts were created to send to men and women with ties to Newtown who are serving in the military. Another collection has been created for all of the town’s first responders.
This month, guests at the first anniversary gathering painted hearts that will be given to individuals, families and groups that rescue or foster animals.
As part of the June 18 celebration, handlers from Christ the King Lutheran Church brought Maggie, the church’s Lutheran Church Charities K-9 Comfort Dog; and handlers from Newtown-Strong Therapy Dogs brought Jedi, Libby, Sadie and Yoda to the party.
The Tarpeys were among those who found inspiration in the canine guests.
Meghan immediately began creating a paw on her heart, while her sister Paige went to work on painting Maggie. The face of the golden retriever quickly came into focus, so Paige turned to help her mother design something for her still blank heart.
“This is our first time here,” Barb Tarpey said, smiling at her girls. “We knew they were focusing on comfort dogs tonight.”
HOH-Newtown usually meets on the third Wednesday of each month, from 6:30 to 9 pm. A donation of $5 is requested per person. As of May 14, the HOH-Newtown chapter had accounted for 550 painted hearts and reported donations totaling more than $1,200.
Judy Pederson told The Bee in May 2013 that she estimates approximately 100,000 people had been affected by Hearts of Hope at that time, counting not only those who have painted the hearts, but also those who make the hearts from clay, the volunteers who package and distribute them, and those who find them.
To become involved with Hearts of Hope-Newtown, follow the local chapter on its Facebook page.