12/14 Foundations And Community Groups Reach Out In A Network Of Caring

A chorus of voices spilled from The Alexandria Room Tuesday afternoon as various outreach and community-based groups networked at Edmond Town Hall.

Representatives from groups such as HealingNewtown, Cullens Youth Association, Kevin’s Community Center, Newtown Memorial Fund, Newtown Youth & Family Services, and Sandy Hook Promise — representing foundations that had long been established as well those formed in the wake of 12/14 — and more gathered on January 14 for the first-of-its-kind event, bringing together the charities, service providers, community groups, and support foundations. Greeting guests was Elizabeth Rallo of GE, which initiated the event. The banquet hall quickly filled with guests displaying their group’s information to share with the others.

“These people come together in helping the town in recovery,” she said. “This is a way to get them all together, to know one another.”

The purpose was for collaboration, she said.

“We all felt we should have a networking session,” Ms Rallo said, glancing around at the more than 50 groups set up that day, making themselves available to one another. “Everyone is prepared. It’s wonderful,” she said, pleased to see the many groups working together.

Jeremy Richman, PhD and founder of the Avielle Foundation wanted to help people “understand what we do.” He and his wife Jennifer Hensel started the Avielle Foundation after they lost their daughter Avielle on 12/14.

“People see us as parents who lost a daughter, but not as neuroscience researchers,” he said. The foundation, according to its website, has been created to bring about change in the hope of honoring Avielle and all the others who have fallen to violence. The goal of the foundation is to prevent violence through brain health research and fostering community.

Watching the swell of people shaking hands or speaking with one another, Dr Richman considered the networking event, and said he hopes for “more of a connection in a way that makes change.”


People Helping Newtown

Cheryl Koeber, with The Healing Hearts Center of Regional Hospice said, “It takes your breath away to look around the room and see all the people helping this town.” Noting the many organizations that have seen an increased demand since 12/14 and the groups that have “spun up,” since then, she found it helpful to receive current information on the many involved in the support and recovery process.

“This is a great opportunity,” she said, and would help her to fill in the names and faces of all involved to prevent “gaps in service.” The afternoon would increase her knowledge, she said. “If I know what the people in this room are doing, and I get a call, I can refer,” the caller to the proper agency, she said.

Rhonda Feuz with Newtown Kindness, which started after 12/14 in honor of Charlotte Bacon, said the day’s effort was “amazing and wonderful.” She was glad, she said, for the chance to “see what we’re all doing and get to know the people here.”

Across the room and standing by information displayed on the one of many crowded tables throughout the room, Tracy Van Buskirk, vice president of the Cullens Youth Association, Inc, said, “We want to help other groups.”

The CYA facility on Taunton Lake Road encourages children to enjoy the outdoors. The CYA property include two acres of activity fields, four acres of wooded camping sites, and access to a seven-acre lake for canoeing and fishing. The property has a 2,400-square-foot lodge complete with kitchen, restrooms, and equipment storage, and is available year-round to all organized youth groups such as scouts, church youth groups, special education children, civic organizations, and other youth organizations in Newtown and, by invitation, to out-of-town organizations.

Ms Van Buskirk said, “Our mission — let nature be the healer and teacher for youth.”

Eileen Rondeau, a care coordinator with Newtown Access MH, a mental health resource, said her group “tries to connect people with mental health services through their care provider.” Greeting many of the others Tuesday, she said, “It’s nice to know what’s out there,” which will help her with referrals.


“Nurturing, Healing, Love”

Scarlett Lewis, who lost her son Jesse on 12/14, has started the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation, for which she handed out information on Tuesday. According to its website, the foundation “collaborates with professional educators to bring lasting meaning to Jesse’s murder by developing school-based educational programs to change our current culture of violence to one of safety, peace and love for everyone in our world.

“This is the single guiding principle, the sole purpose and motto of our work: Teaching Others to Choose Love,” it adds.

While signing her book, Nurturing, Healing, Love, words taken from a message Jesse had written on a chalkboard at home days before he was killed, Ms Lewis’s book is a “mother’s journey of hope and forgiveness,” as stated on the book’s cover. Ms Lewis handed a signed copy to Joni Capoccitti.

Of the day’s event, Ms Lewis said, “It’s important to know what other charities are doing in town and to help each other reach our goals. It was a great idea.”

“This is about bringing the community drivers together,” Ms Rallo said.

Contact Elizabeth.rallo@genewtown.com for more information.

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