‘Love Wins’ Conference Promoted Community Collaboration

WEST HARTFORD — “Love Wins: A Conference Promoting Love, Connection and Community for Every Child and Family” took place Monday, December 2, at the University of Hartford’s Lincoln Theater. The inaugural event of the Ana Grace Project of Klingberg Family Centers celebrated the life of Ana Grace Márquez-Greene, and inspired the nearly 500 people in attendance to explore effective ways to build community and interpersonal connection to prevent violence and promote recovery.

Ana Grace was 6 years old when she died at Sandy Hook Elementary School on 12/14. In the face of their loss, Jimmy and Nelba Márquez-Greene launched the initiative, partnering with Ms Márquez-Greene’s former employer, Klingberg Family Centers, a private nonprofit organization serving children and families across Connecticut.

Participants in the December 2 symposium represented the fields of medicine, nursing, education, mentoring, early childhood, mental health, foster care, and the faith community, as well as state and local government.

Steven Girelli, PhD, president and CEO of Klingberg Family Centers, offered opening remarks. Tamara Bross, vice president of business development for corporate sponsor Stanley Black & Decker, expressed the company’s commitment to the initiative, and University of Hartford President Walter Harrison welcomed participants to the campus for the community conversation, noting that Mr Greene and Ms Márquez-Greene are both alumni of the university.

The Connecticut Children’s Chorus performed “Let There Be Peace On Earth” under the direction of Dr Vanessa Bond. A solo piano performance by Ana Grace’s brother, Isaiah, was well received by the audience.

“We remember December 14 as the day Ana walked into the arms of Jesus,” said Ms Márquez-Greene. “It became our mission to remember her life twice as loudly as the circumstances of her death. But it has not been easy. Ana’s absence is profoundly felt. There is no corner left untouched when you lose a child in this way. We’ve had simple goals: to honor God, to stay married, to parent Isaiah, and to face this unspeakable loss with some semblance of courage, hope, and love. Yet, most days, it feels like hanging on to the edge of the cliff for dear life.”

Bruce D. Perry, MD, PhD, an internationally known clinician and researcher in children’s mental health and the neurosciences, delivered the keynote address, entitled “Love and Loss, How Relationships Heal.” Dr Perry is the Senior Fellow of The Child Trauma Academy, a not-for-profit organization based in Houston, Texas, and adjunct professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago.

In his address, Dr Perry said, “This presentation focused on the remarkable neurobiological ‘power’ of relationships to regulate, reward, and heal, and the vulnerabilities created by the poverty of relationships which characterize the modern world.”

The conference united the resources of the University of Hartford, Central Connecticut State University, and Western Connecticut State University, where Jimmy Greene serves as a professor of music. Among the speakers was WestConn political scientist Christopher Kukk, who heads the university’s Center for Compassion, Creativity and Innovation.

Participants attended a series of workshops during the day, as well as a panel discussion led by experts in the mental health field. Each session addressed the question of “How do we love our children, and all children, in ways that promote their mental and emotional health?”

During the luncheon, some of Ana’s favorite foods were served on tables decorated in hearts and covered in purple, her favorite color.

Participants were asked to write down personal commitments to make changes where they live and work, in keeping with the theme of “Love Wins,” and each message was inscribed on a purple paper heart, then posted on a wall erected on the Lincoln Theater stage.

The day concluded with music, led by Ana’s father, an acclaimed saxophonist and composer, along with fellow musicians and vocalists including Latanya Farrell, Jennifer Allen, Nat Reeves, Jonathan Barber, and Steve Davis. Mr Greene dedicated a song he had written for his daughter entitled “Last Summer,” from his latest album Beautiful Life. Also performing was The Artists Collective Children Performing Ensemble.

“We were tremendously heartened by the wonderful response to this initiative,” said Ms Márquez-Greene. “The determination and resolve that was plainly evident in every individual in attendance — to earnestly work together to explore ways and means to nurture more compassionate and enduring community connections — provides reason to hope.

“Today was an important first step, not only for The Ana Grace Project, but for all who believe that we can develop communities in which resilience, understanding, and compassion can truly thrive. It was a day to honor Ana Grace, and a day to look ahead to what our communities can become,” she added.

“Our family was looking for a way to look tragedy in the face and declare that ‘Love Wins!’ The Ana Grace Project of Klingberg Family Centers not only honors the memory of our precious daughter, it is the beginning of something we hope will have an impact for children nationwide for years to come. Our goal is to encourage every person and every community to address mental health and prevent violence, one child and family at a time. We know our little girl is safe in the arms of her Heavenly Father, and that is our source of comfort and hope,” Mr Greene said.

Mr Girelli commented, “I could not be happier with the success of today’s conference. It was a wonderful springboard for the important work of the Ana Grace Project, and I’m confident that the ideas and inspirations generated here will have a tremendously valuable impact.”

Stanley Black & Decker was the major business sponsor of the conference and supported the establishment of the Ana Grace Project. Siracusa Moving & Storage became involved as a Scholarship Sponsor, enabling Klingberg Family Centers’ program staff and families from Sandy Hook the opportunity to participate.


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