Within a few days of 12/14, green signs with white writing declaring We Are Sandy Hook / We Choose Love began appearing around Newtown. The signs measure 11 by 17 inches and have been printed on a heavy card stock.
No one knew where they had come from. Most people only recalled “a man,” who had visited their business, and offered to share one of the green and white signs. Numerous Facebook posts showed pictures of them, with countless people asking where they had come from and where they could get their own. The Newtown Bee even received countless calls, e-mails and even residents stopping in its office looking for them.
It has been seven weeks, and now Newtown resident Tim Stan is ready to step up and take credit for the signs that have helped many fellow residents rally around a message that he sees as both positive and defiant.
“I want us to be remembered for how we responded,” Mr Stan said. “We always have a choice of how we respond to anyone, and anything.”
The first part of the message, according to Mr Stan, is a response to media reports within hours of the shootings at Sandy Hook School that began linking Newtown to other locations of mass shootings.
“I kept hearing on the news that Newtown had joined this terrible club. That really bothered me,” he said. “I love this town. My wife and I have live here for 16 years, and I don’t think we will ever leave. But that pronouncement really bothered me.
“That is not who we are,” he said. “It’s something that happened to us. We can’t change that. But we can be remembered for how we respond to our neighbors and friends.”
So the first part — We Are Sandy Hook — is Mr Stan’s way of saying that this town will not be defined “by this horror that came to us,” he said.
The second half of his message — We Choose Love — deals with the town’s response.
“I noticed that in the days afterward that we all chose to respond with love. I saw amazing acts of beauty and kindness, from within town and then it started arriving from out of town and around the world,” he said. “Even when there were protesters” — he refuses to say the name of those who protested at funerals — “we still chose love. With the conspiracy people, and in the face of theorists who deny that this ever happened, we still kept our center. We love our community.”
Like many, the first few days after 12/14 were difficult for the Stans. Tim and his wife Julie live in Newtown, outside the Sandy Hook district. Their two children attend Middle Gate School. The family gathered together, and stayed inside their home that Friday night.
“We kind of went into bunker mentality,” said Mr Stan. “We shut off the TV. We had the kids home, and we stayed there as a family. We played Scrabble, which is a very appropriate thing for Newtown, don’t you think?” he said with a laugh. (The Scrabble word game was first developed in Newtown.)
Mr Stan ran out to pick up a few things from Stop & Shop at one point, and noticed something.
“Everyone who you passed, we made eye contact and we smiled,” he said. “They weren’t broad smiles. They were just signs of reassurance.
“It seemed to me like the members of our community are seeing each other in a new way, with new value. We aren’t taking each other for granted,” he said.
When he was able to begin stringing thoughts together, Mr Stan was inspired by some familiar words of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
“It just seem so appropriate to me,” Mr Stan said of the passage from one of Dr King’s sermons found in his still-influential book from 1963, Strength To Love.
When he began toying with the idea of a message, the design “just kind of came to me,” said Mr Stan. He knew immediately that his sign would be green and white, the elementary school’s colors. Once he put a large green rectangle on his screen, it reminded him immediately of a chalkboard. Once he saw that, he decided to go with a font reminiscent of chalk, “as if a teacher had written this,” he said.
He finished the design by the evening of Sunday, December 16, and visited Shadow Graphics the following day. The Simm Lane business “was good enough to print them up at a very small charge,” he said. The signage has been paid for out of Mr Stan’s pocket.
That Tuesday, Mr Stan was supposed to attend a Christmas luncheon at work. A production manager at Accutrol in Monroe, “I was not in a place where I could do that,” he said. Instead, he picked up his signs, went into Sandy Hook Center, and walked around, offering one to each business. The response was immediate.
“Most places, I would walk in to offer a sign and not only would the owner say Yes, but a customer would ask for one,” he said. “Every business accepted a sign.”
The work, which continued all the way up Church Hill Road and along part of Main Street, was therapeutic for Mr Stan.
“I just wanted to spread that message, to cast it out,” he said. He didn’t stay long in many locations (including The Newtown Bee’s office), so he was able to remain anonymous.
“I saw friends on Facebook posting about them,” he said of the signs, which people seemed to appreciate immediately.
Even Julie Stan was kept out of the loop until after the signs were printed.
“She came home from the gym and said something about seeing them, and then she saw the box,” he said, again laughing.
“It’s an active message, a positive choice,” Julie Stan said on January 30.
Now that the word has started getting out about her father, Katie Stan thinks it’s “awesome,” she also said last Monday night.
Bumper stickers and notecards have begun appearing with the same wording. Even a few billboards have adapted the design. Those were not Mr Stan’s doing, however. Those were done by others.
“I’m am perfectly fine with that,” he said. “It’s about the message. It’s not about me.”
The Sandy Hook Project
Tim Stan’s initial printing of We Are Sandy Hook was quickly exhausted. The Stans want to continue spreading the message that Newtown will remain a strong, loving community. They are also hoping to do something good with Mr Stan’s message.
“We want to raise funds to support victims and services of violent crime, starting here in Newtown,” Mr Stan said. “We have friends whose Sandy Hook Elementary School children were in the next room [from the shootings], or in that building. They heard things that no child should ever live through.”
The couple watched help come in for friends, neighbors, and strangers from everywhere. They want to support that, Mr Stan said.
“Recovery is going to take many years for these children, families, teachers, and first responders,” he said. “We want to do what ever we can to support them.
A new batch of signs have been printed. Car magnets are also in the works.
The couple has filed articles of incorporation for The Sandy Hook Project, which will allow the Stans to sell items with Mr Stan’s message.
“[The Project] is incorporated, but it is nonprofit. All proceeds will be donated,” Mr Stan said February 5.
A website is in the works, at SandyHookProject.org, and Mr Stan expects to have “at least a few pages” live by the weekend.
We Are Sandy Hook signs are now available at the office of The Newtown Bee, 5 Church Hill Road, for a $3 requested donation. Mr Stan is also working on additional distribution points, he said February 5.
The first donation will be to Newtown Youth & Family Services, “because they have been an amazing pillar this whole time,” Mr Stan said.
Meanwhile, the purpose of the message has been cathartic for Mr Stan.
“I never expected this to have this kind of response,” he said Tuesday morning. “I did it to put out a positive message, of pride and solidarity, but it was also therapeutic for me.
“It felt good to do something that was oriented to our community,” he continued. “To look outward, rather than inward.”