“Clearly what is needed moving forward is something different than what happened immediately following 12/14,” Newtown Youth Academy (NYA) Fitness Director Cody Foss said Monday, October 14. Mr Foss was referring to the generosity of nationally recognized sports figures and teams who provided free programs in the immediate aftermath of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
But in validating the value of those programs, as well as the six Open Play Days made possible at NYA through a $25,000 grant from New York Life Foundation, Mr Foss noted that NYA is now committed to continuing to offer free programming to the community. Unlike the nationwide support offered in the early months of 2013, it would be, Mr Foss said, programming from within the community for the entire community.
“That’s the direction we are moving,” he said.
In order for NYA to continue to provide events such as the Open Play Days, however, in which four groups of young people, broken down by age groups, can take part in 90-minute sessions of a mix of structured and unstructured play, funding is needed. Through the efforts of chairperson Kristin Scianna, a Newtown native and financial advisor with New York Life, and co-chairperson Terry Sagedy, NYA’s Board of Directors will present its first gala fundraiser on Saturday, October 26. “Play It Forward: Moving Through the Music” will take place at Matrix Corporate Center, 39 Old Ridgebury Road in Danbury, from 6 to 11 pm. Proceeds will support future free programming at the local youth academy and fitness center.
“The first time we opened our doors all day [after 12/14] at NYA was Monday, December 17, and 5,000 people came,” said NYA Founder Peter D’Amico. “We wanted to do whatever we could to alleviate the pain, to distract the kids,” he said. No media was allowed into the building, giving children and parents a time to gather and decompress, he said.
The outreach from all over the country afterward was incredible, Mr D’Amico said, and NYA was happy to provide a space for many events for the people “wanting to do something for Newtown. When people reach out with positive thoughts and activities, it makes the community realize how much people care.”
Nearly a year after the shootings, NYA is redefining its role, he said.
“We want to offer as much free activity as we can, for everybody,” Mr D’Amico said. “I want NYA to be a place where kids can gather and be children, as we used to be, to just play. Part of what we have come to be for the community,” he said, noting that NYA has supported people through the major storms and hurricanes, as well as the 12/14 tragedy, “is to be a safe haven and shelter, for seniors, families, children — for everybody. We’ve almost become a community center.”
NYA, approaching its fifth anniversary, was here and contributing to the community before 12/14, Ms Scianna pointed out, “So it remains a familiar place for residents.”
“Events like these are perfect for the theme of the town going forward,” added Mr Foss.
Ms Scianna met with Mr D’Amico in the spring, after having heard about the support NYA had offered to the community.
“I wanted his perspective on what NYA could do in a realistic capability, and I was impressed with how he genuinely wanted to be of benefit to the community,” she said.
She presented the goals of NYA to the New York Life Foundation, and the $25,000 grant was issued. That money sponsored complimentary fitness memberships at NYA for victims’ families and first responders, complimentary summer fitness memberships for all employees of the Newtown School District, free Open Houses and Play Days, as well as Soccer and Lacrosse Days, and fitness workouts.
Realizing the benefits provided, Ms Scianna paired with Newtown resident Kyle Lyddy, who has been involved with the youth academy since it opened, and came up with the idea of a gala fundraiser that would allow free programming to continue.
“It will be an extraordinary night,” said Ms Scianna, well worth the $250 per person ticket. The Gatsby/Roaring 20s themed evening will be a black tie event, with a red carpet arrival, cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, and a silent auction. Roaring 20s dancers will entertain, with live jazz and swing music providing the appropriate background during the cocktail hour.
“We will have great auction items,” Ms Scianna said, including guitars signed by Bruce Springsteen and Jimmy Buffett, signed sheet music from Taylor Swift, and trip packages such as the Kentucky Derby, the Napa Valley wine region, yacht adventures, and a trip to Switzerland. Former Newtown resident Jenna VanOy has provided memorabilia from her days in the 1990s television sitcom “Blossom.” From soccer great David Beckham comes a donation of sports memorabilia, Ms Scianna said, and much more.
A full sit down dinner with live entertainment by members of the Performing Arts Center of Connecticut follows the cocktail hour, and guests will be treated to the talents of New Orleans jazz trumpeter/singer Jeremy Davenport and his band, as well as the vocals of jazz singer Darlene Love during the next two hours of dancing and dessert.
Mr Davenport studied under jazz great Wynton Marsalis’s father at the University of New Orleans, and has toured with Harry Connick’s Big Band. He plays a mix of jazz standards, as well as his original works.
Ms Love made her name with the song “He’s a Rebel,” in 1962, and has worked with 1950s and 1960s greats Dionne Warwick, The Beach Boys, Elvis Presley, Tom Jones, and others. She has also appeared as herself in the Tony Award-nominated jukebox musical Leader of the Pack. She continues to do a Christmas show every year in New York City, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011.
“There will be cocktails, dessert stations, and a chocolate fountain, as well. It will all be over the top,” Ms Scianna said.
Ms Scianna and Mr Sagedy are hopeful that this first gala event will become an annual event, as people come to realize the value of funding free programming in Newtown.
“We originally reached out to people in surrounding towns, but have lowered the price point so that local people who want to attend and support NYA can do so,” she said.
One Goal: Monthly Open Play Days
“I feel like [the free programming] is a long term solution, as long as funding is available,” said Ms Scianna. “It’s a structured, positive environment to be used by the residents of Newtown. We want to be sure that for 2014, there is funding for the programs,” she said.
“Our goal,” Mr Sagedy said, “is to be able to provide these Open Play days once a month. I think that’s reasonable, with everything else that goes on in this town,” he said.
There has been a good response to the gala already, Ms Scianna said, and with the Matrix able to accommodate up to 1,000 people, she is confident that all who wish to go will be accommodated.
Sabrina Style in Sandy Hook Center is offering a discount of 10 percent on gowns and tuxedoes for the event, Ms Scianna said, and The Gentleman’s Wearhouse in Danbury Mall (only that site) is donating $5 to NYA for every tuxedo rented there. At the Ethan Allen Inn in Danbury, gala-goers can enjoy a discounted room rate.
The gala is supporting Mr D’Amico’s vision, Ms Scianna stressed.
“When you see it genuinely coming from that person, it’s very powerful,” she said. One hundred percent of the proceeds from the evening goes to support NYA free programs.
Gala organizers continue to seek sponsorship from businesses and individuals, available at different price levels. For information on sponsorship, visit www.nyasportsfitness.com/gala.
Tickets for the October 26 gala are also available at the website, or by visiting the facility at Fairfield Hills.
“I think everyone is going to enjoy an over the top evening,” Ms Scianna said.