Organizations Are Here For The Long Haul As Newtown Moves Forward

“Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me... Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.” — Shel Silverstein

So much that shouldn’t, mustn’t have happened, did occur, last December 14, 2012, when Adam Lanza shot his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School, killing 20 small children and six educators. But out of a horror that could’ve, might’ve put Newtown into an angry, downward spiral of hate and despair, instead has come a powerful message to the world beyond our town’s borders: We Choose Love.

Choosing to spread that message and working to see that no other families suffer the pain experienced by those who lost loved ones that day, members of those families, the community, and beyond have founded organizations that will help them and our town move forward into a future that is as rich as it can be, minus those cherished 26 lives. Means of healing in the immediate aftermath of the murders have grown into ways to continue to heal as grief reconciles itself to the new normal in Newtown.

Two of the first organizations to form in response to 12/14 were Sandy Hook Promise and Newtown Action Alliance/Newtown Foundation.

Sandy Hook Promise was created by members of the community to honor and support family members who lost loved ones, those wounded, and others in our community impacted by the tragedy, according to its website, www.sandyhookpromise.org. The focus of this group continues to be working through education to reduce the causes of gun violence; providing immediate and long-term financial, in-kind, and other aid, on request, to families impacted; and to identify and support other nonprofit organizations that can provide best in class services, treatment, and support to help the community. Sandy Hook Promise has recently launched the Parent Together program, with tools to provide communities with ways of reducing isolation and early intervention for mental health issues.

Newtown Action Alliance, www.newtownaction.org, a grassroots organization created in the weeks after 12/14, has been and continues to work to reverse gun violence through legislation and broader cultural change. Its sister affiliation, The Newtown Foundation, www.newtownaction.org/newtown-foundation, is not involved in any legislative or electoral activities. Instead it is focused on educational, healing, and cultural programs including a focus on first responders and teachers to help them move forward. The Newtown Foundation also “focuses on helping teens to channel their fears and frustrations into positive activities also focuses on community educational and enrichment programs, as well as victim and community outreach,” according to its website.

Newtown Action Alliance has also spawned a group for teenagers desiring to be proactive in cultural change, the Junior Newtown Action Alliance.

In the days immediately following 12/14, NYA Sports & Fitness Center offered free Open Play Days at its Fairfield Hills facility, providing a space for children and families to gather and relieve stress in a safe, media-free environment. NYA has continued, over the months, to host free activities and hopes to be able to offer more Open Play Days, at no cost to community members, in the upcoming months.

In recognition of the need for spiritual strength and unity, the Newtown Interfaith Clergy Association has initiated monthly interfaith gatherings for prayer, held at various public locations. The gatherings last approximately 25 minutes. Information on gatherings appears in individual congregation bulletins or in The Newtown Bee.

HealingNewtown Arts Center is a project developed and managed by the Newtown Cultural Arts Commission (NCAC), and the result of a collaboration for local, area, and state art leaders. For the past several months, this group has provided opportunities to paint, work with clay, dance, make and listen to music, and to take part in other artistic endeavors. The group hosted a gallery of art donated to the town post-12/14 in a temporary space on Queen Street this past winter. HealingNewtown is focused on how the arts can strengthen the Newtown community through art programs and events. Currently housed in the lower level of the Newtown Congregational Church on West Street, as it seeks a permanent space, activities are scheduled ongoing at different venues throughout Newtown, and offered free of charge thanks to the contributions from individuals and other resources. Sponsors are sought, with opportunities available by contacting Robert Rabinowitz at healingnewtownonline@gmail.com. To donate artwork or lead programs, e-mail info@HealingNewtown.org or call 203-364-9230.

At Newtown High School, Dr John Woodall has introduced the Unity Project, a resiliency building program for students of high school, focused on community service and the arts. Over the past several months, students have been involved in several activities to benefit the school. More information can be had by contacting math instructor Eugene Hall or assistant principal Paul Jones through the school’s website, www.newtown.k12.ct.us.

Peace Builders launched in March, and is a group for youth ages 11–14, devoted to a “transformation process to help them become compassionate global citizens building a culture of peace” though community service activities. Information at NewtownPeaceBuilders@gmail.com.

Residents were invited to become part of 21st Century Conversations this past spring, a means of determining what skills will be needed to maintain and strengthen the community. The skill-building workshops are led by Dr John Woodall, and eventually by others trained in resiliency skills. 21st Century Conversations will resume after January 1. For information contact Dr Woodall at johnwoodallmd@gmail.com.

Resiliency Center of Newtown, located at 153 South Main Street (lower level) since September, is a nonprofit that provides free and confidential services, programs, and events to assist in the healing process for anyone in the greater Newtown community impacted by the events of 12/14. For more information, visit www.resiliencycenterofnewtown.org or contact Stephanie Cinque at 203-364-9750 or stephanie@resiliencycenterofnewtown.org.

The 12.14 Foundation was founded by Michael Baroody, MD, with a mission to strengthen through the arts, nurture children’s talents, and encourage creative abilities. Seussical, the Musical was produced by The 12.14 Foundation in August, performed by Newtown and area youth alongside Broadway professionals. Ultimately, The 12.14 Foundation hopes to build a Performing Arts Centre, creating new educational opportunities and allowing practice in the performing arts for young people and their families. The Arts Centre will ideally incorporate advanced multimedia capabilities, and provide a space for music, art, and dance performances. For more information, visit www.1214foundation.org.

Formed in the aftermath of 12/14 by local music teachers Francine Wheeler, whose son Ben Wheeler died at Sandy Hook School, and Jim Allyn, Newtown Youth Voices is a chorus of 20 children and youth from Newtown, ranging in age from 8 to 18. Newtown Youth Voices sings together to extend a message of love and peace to the community and beyond.

A new Dickinson Memorial Park Playground for all of the children of Newtown will grow out of donations to the town in response to 12/14. The scope of Parks and Recreation’s new play area, already in planning stages, doubled due to the donations intended for a playground. The new playground will includes features spread along a path meandering through butterfly gardens, climbing rocks, musical instruments, rope climbing, play structures, swings, water and sand tables, picnic areas, a zip line, and grassy play areas, all wheelchair accessible. It is hoped that the playground will be ready for use the summer of 2014.

Playgrounds for children all over the region are springing up in the wake of 12/14, and in response to the October 2012 Hurricane Sandy. The Sandy Ground: Where Angels Play project is coordinated by The New Jersey State Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association Foundation, Inc. The project’s mission is to create 26 living memorials to all children who have been victims of violence. Each playground is being built and then dedicated in the name of a victim of 12/14. Playgrounds honoring Rachel D’Avino (Asbury Park, N.J.), Dylan Hockley (Westport), Catherine Hubbard (Ansonia), Anne Marie Murphy (Sea Bright, N.J.), Jack Pinto (Union Beach, N.J.), Victoria Soto (Stratford), Daniel Barden (Highlands, N.J.), Caroline Previdi (Island Park, N.Y.), Jessica Rekos (Fairfield), Chase Kowalski (Mantoloking, N.J.), Olivia Engel (Manasquan, N.J.), Avielle Richman, (Belmar, N.J.), Allison Wyatt (Norwalk), and Emilie Parker (New London) were completed as of the end of November. For more information, www.thesandygroundproject.org.

The family of Catherine Violet Hubbard has partnered with The Animal Center of Newtown on a project that will honor Catherine’s memory and give back to the community. Following the first grader’s death, the family had asked that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to The Animal Center to honor Catherine’s love of animals, and the first seeds were planted to create The Catherine Violet Hubbard Animal Sanctuary. Thousands of dollars in donations and the partnership will allow the Animal Center to fulfill a dream of a sanctuary abused, injured, or abandoned dogs, cats, and farm animals, or animals who are otherwise in need, and to create a place of healing for all. The Hubbards, who are now on the center’s Board of Advisory for the sanctuary, and Animal Center board members continue to seek the donation of an appropriate plot of land, approximately 10 to 30 acres, in Newtown or Sandy Hook. Architectural designs have been drawn up, and The Catherine Violet Hubbard Foundation has been created to fund and sustain the sanctuary. Find out more about the sanctuary at www.cvhfoundation.org/about/cvh-foundation or www.theanimalcenter.org/sanctuary.

Since January, when the Tucson, Ariz.-based Ben’s Bells kindness program first came to Newtown, the ceramic bead and bell creations have brought joy to many who have discovered the randomly distributed works of art. Ben’s Bells Newtown opened in July, and is the only other Ben’s Bells studio outside of Tucson. Founder Jeannette Maré sanctioned the Newtown studio, where people are invited to participate in making Ben’s Bells components, as well as “Kindness Coins,” another project of Ben’s Bells. The colorful Kindness Coins are used in Kind Kids Programs at schools, and traded as rewards for acts of kindness. Ben’s Bells Newtown is located in the rear of 17 Church Hill Road, and is open most Wednesday evenings and Saturday afternoons. For more information contact newtown@bensbells.org.

Similar to Ben’s Bells in its mission to use random distribution of works of art to bring a bit of joy to communities needing a lift, Hearts Of Hope describes itself on its Facebook page, HeartsOfHopeOfNewtownCt as “a pay-it-forward program in which people paint clay hearts and send them to people and places in need of a little hope.” Organizers were inspired by the thousands of hearts brought to Newtown after December 14. Newtown residents have since sent hearts to Boston, Moore, Okla., Prescott, Ariz., Yale Children’s Hospital, and Connecticut Children’s Medical Center. Anyone wishing to paint a heart (or several) can join in the third Wednesday evening of most months, in the lower level of the Newtown United Methodist Church, from 6:30 to 9 pm. No experience is necessary. More information about the Hearts Of Hope organization can be found at www.ourheartsofhope.org/cms.

Therapy Dogs International Chapter 268 held its first meeting in Newtown, in February, after receiving permission from Therapy Dogs International (TDI) to create a local chapter. TDI Chapter 268 is the only TDI chapter in Connecticut. The Newtown chapter’s additional layers of evaluation to what is generally required of TDI certified dogs and handlers were put into practice to ensure that the dogs and people visiting are able to handle unusual situations that occur in a post-disaster stress zone: which is how TDI categorizes Newtown after 12/14. In Newtown, dogs and handlers must be comfortable in large groups, and able to handle different people coming at them from different angles, for instance. By having a local TDI chapter, local therapy dog owner Kathryn Zaharek said, the therapy dogs and handlers will provide an ongoing presence in town that offers more stability. To schedule a visit from a therapy dog in Newtown, contact tdichapter268@gmail.com. (Christ the King Lutheran Church has adopted its own therapy dog, Maggie, and a member of the Newtown Volunteer Ambulance took possession of a “comfort puppy” given to the local first responders this winter.)

Newtown’s Cyrenius H. Booth Library’s Books Heal Hearts program, privately funded through donations of materials and money, provides books, CDs, coloring books, and audio tapes, available from the library at no charge. There is no need to return these items. Books Heal Hearts program information can be found on the Cyrenius H. Booth’s website, www.chboothlibrary.org/BooksHealHearts.Php.

United Physicians of Newtown, founded by Drs Charles Herrick, Gregory Dworkin, Raul Arquello, James Bruno, Rob Bazuro, and William Begg of Newtown in the wake of 12/14, is now made up of 116 doctors who live in or practice in Newtown. The goal of the organization is to respond to what they see as a national epidemic of gun violence. United Physicians works to raise awareness and find ways to address the issue of gun violence as a major public health issue. More about this organization can be found at www.unitedphysiciansofnewtown.org.

MouthPeace Arts Center is meant to provide an outlet for high school students’ creativity, and to promote positive healing methods through the arts. Founder Zachary Kapple, a Newtown High School graduates, realized post 12/14 the need for a place for youth between the ages of 13 and 25 to interact and connect. MouthPeace plans to lead workshops for high school students at various town locations, and present exhibitions of music, art, poetry of all types at various Newtown venues. To find out more, go to www.Facebook.com/mouthpeacect.

The Newtown Lions Sandy Hook Elementary Fund is meant to provide financial assistance to those in need for months and years to come. The Lions Club has teamed up with professional therapists’ associations to provide reimbursement of all costs from therapy. Funding comes mainly from more than 500 Lions Clubs nationwide, but donations from all are welcome at www.newtownlions.com/pages/SHEF/shef.htm.

Ben’s Lighthouse, named for Benjamin Wheeler, a 6-year-old victim of the December shooting, is dedicated to bringing joy to the children of Newtown in the wake of 12/14. Its mission is to “promote the long-term health of Newtown’s young people and families and nurture a culture of nonviolence and caring through a series of community-building events, workshops, and community service activities.” More information can be found at www.benslighthouse.org.

Jessica’s Camp is an outgrowth of The Jessica Rekos Memorial Fund. Jessica, 6, was a first-grader at Sandy Hook Elementary School, killed on 12/14. The horse training scholarship program provides equine training for children in need, and scholarships are offered to children whose families would not otherwise be able to afford private horse lessons. The Jessica Rekos Foundation is to provide financial assistance to organizations promoting the welfare of whales through research and conservation efforts, to provide financial assistance to organizations promoting the welfare of horses by providing equine rescue services, to provide scholarships to enable youth to receive instruction in the care and riding of horses, and to provide grants to public schools for the purpose of improving school safety. For more information visit www.teamjessicarekos.org.

Young horse lovers and others will benefit for years from the partnership of Utah-based Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA) and Zoar Ridge Farm, located at 5 Morgan Drive in Sandy Hook. Embrace Hope-Sandy Hook Equine Assisted Therapy Foundation is a permanent part of the Zoar Farm, and will provide funds and facilities for equine-assisted mental health programs. No riding skills are needed for EAGALA Model EAP sessions. All sessions take place on the ground, and are facilitated by a licensed mental health professional and a qualified equine specialist. The sessions are solution-oriented and follow a code of ethics. For more information about EAGALA, visit www.eagala.org.

New scholarships will honor the memories of children and adults killed 12/14. In memory of Ana Grace Márquez-Greene, a 6-year-old victim of the shooting, Western Connecticut State University will now award a four-year scholarship, the Ana Grace Márquez-Greene Music Scholarship. The first scholarship was to be awarded fall 2013, and will continue to support music students every year thereafter, according to the university. This scholarship was established to pay tribute to Ana’s love of music, and will assist others pursuing a music education at Western. Ana was the daughter of Jimmy Greene, a saxophonist and music professor at WCSU, and Nelba Márquez-Greene, a family and marriage therapist.

We Are Newtown Scholarship is a partnership between We Are Newtown and Newtown Scholarship Association to provide scholarships to four graduating Newtown High School students. Newtown native Kyle Lyddy is co-founder of We Are Newtown, and hopes to distribute $26,000 to prospective teachers/educators each year.

The Jesse Lewis Memorial Scholarship is to be awarded annually to a graduating senior at Shelton High School. Jesse Lewis was the son of Shelton High School Class of 1981 graduate Neil Heslin.

Central Connecticut State University (CCSU) has created a scholarship fund. The late Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, principal at Sandy Hook School on December 14, was an alumna of CCSU, which also counts Nelba Márquez-Greene among its colleagues. Ms Márquez -Greene is the mother of Ana Grace Márquez-Greene, who died 12/14. The university will be annually award the Sandy Hook Memorial Scholarship to a deserving student. Funding for the scholarship will come from the CCSU Foundation Scholarship Endowment Fund. To be eligible, candidates must be incoming first-year students who rank in the top 25 percent of their graduating class and have achieved a minimum of 1100 on the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT). Preference will be given to Newtown High School graduates. Donations may also be made by contacting the CCSU Development Office at 860-832-1740 or by sending a check/money order to the CCSU Foundation, Inc, PO Box 612, New Britain CT 06050.

Even as they confront their losses, many of the families directly affected by 12/14 have created foundations to support efforts that they believe will lead to a better world.

The Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation works with professional educators to develop school-based educational programs to change a culture of violence to one of safety, peace, and love. Find out more about the foundation’s dedication to nurturing a healing world at www.jesselewischooselove.org.

The mission of The Avielle Foundation is to prevent violence by fostering brain health research, education, and policy; and community development, engagement, and responsibility. The foundation will do so by directing resources to support research in brain health, bridging behavioral and biochemical sciences. Community-based initiatives and programs that strengthen connectivity, empathy, and understanding; decrease the shame, secrecy, and stigma associated with brain illness; and ultimately facilitate appropriate early-identification and prevention/intervention methods to prevent violence are the goals of this fund. To support this foundation, visit www.aviellefoundation.org.

The Caroline Previdi Foundation’s mission is to honor the legacy of the first grader by providing children in the Newtown community without the financial means to participate in extracurricular activities including, but not limited to, dance camp, art classes, and music lessons. The foundation will strive to accomplish its mission through granting, outreach, and fundraising efforts. Donations can be made at www.carolineprevidifoundation.org.

The focus of the Chase Kowalski Memorial Fund, created in remembrance of Sandy Hook School first grader Chase Kowalski, the students, and educators of the Sandy Hook tragedy, is to be a positive force “to inspire community healing through family and children-focused initiatives and programs.” Support of the fund will promote emotional and physical health, and seek positive changes in the lives of children and their families. Donate to the fund at www.chasekowalskifund.com.

Sandy Hook School Principal Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung valued excellence and learning, and encouraged all to do the same. The Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung Memorial Fund supports a scholarship to benefit students of her Woodbury hometown who are planning to pursue a career in education. Donations are accepted at www.dawnhochsprungmemorialfund.org.

 Dylan’s Wings of Change, a project of New Venture Fund, was set up by the parents of Dylan Hockley after the Sandy Hook School tragedy to benefit children with autism and other special needs. The goal is to ensure that these children can access the services required to help them to lead fulfilling lives .To support Dylan’s Wings of Change, visit www.dyalnswingsofchange.com.

Honoring first grader Emilie Parker’s love of art and creativity, The Emilie Parker Art Connection is meant to support the arts with funding for programs in the community and schools. Contributions may be made at www.emilieparkerfund.com.

The Jack A. Pinto Charitable Gift Fund was established to honor the memory of Jack Pinto, age 6, by his parents, Dean and Tricia Pinto. The Fund seeks to provide ongoing charitable support to organizations that assist children and families. Visit www.tinyrul.com/JackPinto for more information on The Jack A. Pinto Charitable Gift Fund.

The proceeds of the Josephine Grace Gay-Joey’s Fund will help families raising autistic children. Support this fund created in memory of the Sandy Hook School first grader at www.dougflutiejrfoundation.org/donate-joeys-fund.asp.

The mission of the Mary Sherlach Memorial Fund is to provide access to mental health services for children and teens in Fairfield County, who might otherwise find such services inaccessible. The goal is to continue the work of the Sandy Hook School psychologist who died 12/14. To support the fund, visit www.fccfoundation.org.

The Lauren Rousseau Elementary Education Memorial Scholarship was founded in memory of the 30-year-old teacher who died at SHS, 12/14. The $1,000 scholarship is facilitated through the University of Bridgeport, Ms Rousseau’s alma mater. It will be awarded to an applicant seeking certification in elementary education. The scholarship will be distributed over two semesters in two $500 awards. Recipients may use the scholarship for tuition, books or living expenses. Information on the scholarship can be found at www.bridgeport.edu/finaid/graduate/scholarships/lauren-rousseau-memorial.... To support the fund, donate online or mail donations to the University of Bridgeport, Lauren Rousseau Memorial Scholarship, c/o Mary-Jane Foster, Vice-President University Relations, 126 Park Avenue, Bridgeport CT 06604.

One hundred percent of proceeds of the Victoria Leigh Soto Memorial Fund For Education go to scholarships in her name, for students going into field of education. Victoria Soto was a first grade teacher at Sandy Hook School on 12/14. Donate at www.vickisotomemorial.com.

The Ana Grace Project of Klingberg Family Centers will work to promote love, connection, and community for every child and family, based on the belief they are the antidotes to violence, as well as create the Center for Community and Connection, devoted to research, practical tools, professional development, and public policy. It is a collaboration of the Klingberg Family Centers and the family of Ana Grace Márquez-Greene, who died 12/14. More information is available at www.anagraceproject.org.

Repetition is a vehicle for behavioral change, and the All-Star Transportation buses that move Newtown scholars to and from school each day may truly be vehicles of change, as students ponder the simple quote from the late Dawn Hochsprung, adhered to the windows of each bus: “Be Nice To Each Other. It’s really all that matters.”

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