Gestures Of Kindness, Part Eight: "A Little Good" For Newtown, And Lessons For All Ages

(Editor's Note: This story and one of its accompanying cutlines have been updated to show that Centennial High School is located in Ellicott City, Md.)

(This is the eighth installation of a series of stories that share with readers special events that continue to take place as Newtown heals following the events of 12/14 at Sandy Hook School. It is also a continuation of anecdotes from across the country, of people offering kind gestures on behalf of our town.)

Do A Little Good Little Bear, a children’s book that deals with making sense of difficult situations, is available as an ebook on Amazon.com. According to author Laura Deitz all proceeds will go to Sandy Hook School Support Fund and Newtown Youth & Family Services.

The story focuses on the forest-dwelling protagonist Little Bear, a young bear cub. Little Bear is informed by his mother that their friend Susie Bird’s nest was destroyed when the tree it was resting in was chopped down. Little Bear is shaken up and confused by why such a terrible thing happened to such a good friend.

However, Little Bear’s mother shows Little Bear that even though a bad thing happened it lead to an outpouring of love and support from the rest of the animals in the forest. Mother Bear teaches Little Bear that “There are always people who do good, even when bad things happen.”

Ms Deitz said she wrote the book to help parents with the difficult task of explaining the tragic events of 12/14 to their children. A new mother herself, Ms Deitz felt empathy for the parents and views the book as her way of helping out in a time of great need.

“I particularly felt compassion for the parents who lost their precious little ones,” Ms Deitz said. “In a sense, we all lost something precious that day. This was my small contribution of giving back, and ‘doing a little good.’”

Ms Deitz said that the message of the book is applicable for everyone, not just children, and that the message of hope is apparent in all the acts of kindness and love that have happened been offered to Newtown after 12/14.

Do a Little Good Little Bear, while targeted at a young audience has a message for us all; that despite impossibly difficult circumstances, we have an opportunity to do a little good. And as long as there are those that do good in this world, the world will be a better place,” Ms Deitz said. “Nowhere has that message been more visibly displayed than in Newtown, in the outpouring of love and support received from all corners of the world.”

The story, which is dedicated to the “20 beautiful little bears we lost, the seven who showed the world to do a little good, and the countless others whose love and kindness has made our world a better place,” was written in about 15 minutes. According to Ms Deitz the story “wrote itself” and she was “simply the gate keeper.”

The nine-page illustrated tale of Little Bear can be downloaded for Kindle and Kindle apps for iPhones, iPad, PC and smartphones, at Amazon.com. It sells for $2.99.


One Thread At A Time

Thread by thread and knot by knot approximately 500 bracelets have been handcrafted by people from all over the country and delivered to residents of Newtown. Lines of Love, an extracurricular club associated with Centennial High School located in Ellicott City, Md., oversaw the collection and distribution of the bracelets.

According to Founder Rus VanWestervelt, the club was formed  after two of his former students committed suicide within a six month span of time. Initially created to provide resources to people who needed them, the club has also taken on the role of providing handmade bracelets to help people get through difficult times.

“We work very hard to pull communities together in times of need,” Mr VanWestervelt said. “The bracelet is symbolic because it’s made with lines of thread by caring concerned people, and it’s the extension of that concern that those lines represent to people in need of support.”

Using social media and word of mouth, Lines of Love was able to reach people all over the country.

“We received bracelets as far as way as Washington state, Florida, the New England states, the Midwest states, Texas, all over. A lot of these bracelets were made by children themselves,” Mr VanWestervelt said.

Besides providing support for residents of Newtown, Mr VanWestervelt said having the chance to help out also gave comfort to the people who created the bracelets.

“I got to tell you for a lot of individuals who felt frustrated, making these bracelets line by line and  thread by thread was therapeutic for them as well. Even though it wasn’t directly hitting their hometown they could still feel the hurt and the pain,” he said.

The response was so great Lines of Love had to extend their deadline by several weeks to accommodate everyone who wished to contribute a bracelet.

The bracelets were delivered to Newtown by an Ellicott City woman, who wishes to remain anonymous. The woman grew up in Newtown and attended Sandy Hook Elementary School as a child. She hand delivered the bracelets to a contact in Newtown, who then distributed the bracelets at the Newtown High School, Middle School and Chalk Hill Middle School in Monroe which is serving as the temporary site of Sandy Hook Elementary School. The bracelets were also given to churches and distributed at community events.

Mr VanWestervelt felt the time-intensive process of creating the bracelets allowed students an opportunity to reflect on their charitable actions.

“It takes several hours to make a single bracelet. It really requires you to think why you’re actually doing it,” he said. “Some of my students said that every single string they tied was a meditative reflection on the children and the people who lost their lives up there in Newtown.”

Mr VanWestervelt said that he hopes Newtown knows that the love he continues to see in his classroom for the Newtown community will last.

“There is a unity that is greater than state or community lines, you’ve got a lot of strength coming from a lot of people,” Mr VanWestervelt said. “Maybe they didn’t make bracelets or send you teddy bears, maybe they didn’t donate money, but it’s forever in our hearts and it’s going to be that way always for them and for all of us.”

More information on Lines of Love can be found on their website www.LinesOfLove.org.


Lessons For Students, And Their Teacher

The outpouring of support for residents of Newtown in the wake of 12/14 manifested itself in the form of stuffed animals in Schererville, Ind., where Watson Elementary School received well over 1,000 plush toys from the community.

Fourth grade teacher Gretchen Pishkur set up the stuffed animal drive with the original goal of collecting 600 stuffed animals, one for each student that attends Sandy Hook Elementary school. The response was so great the school was able to collect approximately 1,300 stuffed animals.

According to Ms Pishkur before the stuffed animals could be sent to Connecticut, the school’s contact person in Newtown informed her that grief-stricken community had received an overwhelming amount of support in the form of physical donations, and that it would best to donate the stuffed animals elsewhere in the name and honor of the Newtown community.

“It was so disappointing at first but to be honest I kind of knew in the back of my mind I wasn’t the only person who had an idea like that,” Ms Pishkur said. “So we brainstormed. Honestly, we got rid of those bears so fast I wish I had more to give.”

According to Ms Pishkur the stuffed animals were given to local fire and police departments, domestic violence shelters for women and children, hospitals, and ambulance services that serve their region.

The Indiana community’s effort also produced a monetary donation to Newtown. The money raised for the purpose of shipping and handling of the stuffed animals was given to the town of Newtown to benefit the local police department and parks. The money was accompanied by a letter of support.

Ms Pishkur said the charity effort not only benefited the recipients of the stuffed animals but also taught the school’s students that good things can come of bad events.

“It allowed the kids in our school to see that out of something so horrific something good can happen. It could make those kids feel good,” Ms Pishkur said. “Teddy bears would come in and kids would say oh my gosh that’s going to make them feel so good. So the kids weren’t focusing on the horrible part of it, the evil icky part of it, they were focusing on the good part of it.”

Ms Pishkur, whose job it is to teach others, was able to learn a valuable lesson herself.

“I guess it showed me a little bit, a little bit, a little bit adds up to a lot. A lot of time we think I won’t do that because my little bit won’t make a difference but it does,” Ms Pishkur said.

The positive results of the toy drive has encouraged Ms Pishkur to volunteer at a local domestic violence shelter. She said she had the idea of volunteering there for years, but after seeing the difference one person can make she has committed to giving her time to the shelter.

According to Ms Pishkur there is at least one more act of kindness Watson Elementary School has planned for Newtown. A teacher in the area has collected Beanie Babies throughout her life that have commemorated important and notable occasions. Ms Pishkur is now possession of those small dolls and hopes to send them to the teachers of Sandy Hook Elementary School before the end of the school year.


Yorktown Runs For Newtown

More than 200 athletes in Yorktown, N.Y., laced up their running shoes and braced for the cold Saturday morning on January 19 to participate in a 5K run/walk named Strides for Sandy Hook. The event, which raised over $6,000 from entry fees and donations, gave 100 percent of its proceeds to the Newtown Park Gift Fund, which will support the construction of a memorial playground in Newtown.

Two members of the Taconic Road Runners Club, Sean Kelly and Jack Duffy, came up with the idea of organizing a race to raise money for Newtown. They initially planned on holding the event in Newtown, but because of a larger than expected turnout it was logistically impossible.

They decided to instead organize a race in their hometown, Yorktown, N.Y. After purchasing insurance for the race the duo turned to the Taconic Road Runners Club, which aided in setting up the race route and timing the event.

Mr Duffy was very encouraged by the turnout. Strides for Sandy Hook was the first time he’s  got involved with setting up charity work, and encourages everyone to give their time or energy to a charitable cause.

“It’s the first time I’ve ever done anything like that and it’s a phenomenal feeling,” Mr Duffy said. “I think that everyone should do some sort of charity in their life.”

Mr Duffy and Mr Kelly are both fathers of young children; Mr Kelly is also a teacher. Mr Duffy said having a family helped him empathize with people in Newtown affected by 12/14.

“I have a kid who entered kindergarten, he’s five years old. It’s just heartbreaking,” Mr Duffy said. I’m certainly not made of money or I would have donated more money. I used my love of running to bring the community together. Sean felt the same way he’s got a kid in kindergarten. When you see families struggle like that you just kind of want to help out.”

Mr Duffy expressed his gratitude to the Taconic Road Running Club which took on the event, despite their busy schedule.

“I just want to say how great the Taconic road runners were. They were really awesome,” he said.

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