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Year In Review: Moving Forward In 2014



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Sandy Hook Promise is a local organization formed after 12/14 to support mental wellness, social development and gun safety/access nonpolicy, and policy solutions that protect children and prevent gun violence. It is one of many locally based groups that moved forward with their missions during the past 12 months.

In early 2013,  Sandy Hook Promise group launched the Innovation Initiative in San Francisco.

“A lot has been accomplished,” Sandy Hook Promise Co-Founder and Executive Director Tim Makris said earlier this year. The Innovation Initiative has seen companies come forward and investments made to move technology along. Backed by other anonymous Silicon Valley investors, Smart Tech Foundation issued a call in January 2014 for inventors of firearm safety technology, with a $1 million incentive for the best ideas. More than 200 ideas were submitted to the challenge. Foundation initiatives continued to focus on mental wellness issues, school safety, and big data programs that can help guide medical and law enforcement professionals in determining the best use of resources.

Sandy Hook Promise joined five other community organizations in May to present “A Day of Shared Experience.” The Community Connections event was organized by The Resiliency Center of Newtown, Sandy Hook Promise, Newtown/Sandy Hook Community Foundation, Inc, Walnut Hill Community Church, the Town of Newtown, and Newtown Public Schools as a means of helping people understand the trauma experienced on 12/14. Keynote speaker was Dr Kevin Becker, a psychologist specializing in working with traumatized individuals and communities.

Participants also heard from  Carolyn Mears, the parent of a child who survived the Columbine High School shootings in 1999; former Columbine High School students Jennifer Hammer, Michelle Ferro, and Heather Egeland, who all survived the 1999 shootings; Dina and Robert Parmertor, whose son died in the shooting at Chardon High School in Ohio in 2012; Mona and Joe Samah, whose daughter Reema, was one of 32 people killed at Virginia Tech in 2007; Lolly Miller, whose  daughter was shot but survived the Virginia Tech shooting; and Lori Haas, who has been involved in survivor outreach since her daughter, Emily, was shot and survived Virginia Tech.

Thirty members of the Nickel Mines Amish Community represented by families who lost children in the 2006 school shooting tragedy in Lancaster County, Penn., families of children who were wounded or present at that school, first responders, teachers, and Terri Roberts, the mother of the man who committed those shooting, also spoke at this event.

The organization also rolled out the Promise Communities program across the country during the summer. Volunteers were assigned to assist the self-led Promise Communities, formed to promote gun responsibility. Promise Communities were scheduled to take root in Connecticut and in the Midwest.


Well over 200 people attended the 25th Annual Newtown Chapter Regional Hospice and Home Care of Western Connecticut Breakfast Fundraiser, June 11. Twenty-five years ago, a group of women gathered to form the Newtown chapter, to help Regional Hospice care for the terminally ill, current Newtown co-president Marg Studley told attendees. The annual breakfast has become the chapter’s largest fundraiser.

This past fall, community and state leaders, volunteers, and numerous supporters of Newtown Youth & Family Services (NYFS) joined NYFS Executive Director Candice Bohr and staff in celebrating the organization’s 30 years of commitment to the community, as well as honoring special NYFS award recipients, at a breakfast event held at Rock Ridge Country Club in Newtown.

Yet another anniversary was celebrated in 2014, with Newtown Congregational Church marking its 300th year. Numerous events filled the calendar year as the town’s oldest house of worship recalled where it has been and looked forward to the future.

An all-church feast, open to the public, took place in The Great Room of Newtown Congregational Church in mid-October. Members and friends of the congregation gathered for food and reflections on the church’s 300th anniversary. Senior Pastor Matthew Crebbin addressed the early years of the Newtown Congregational Church and its growth over three centuries. 

A special birthday party took place Monday morning, November 17, when former and current drivers, and board members of Newtown Meals On Wheels (MOW) gathered in the meeting room at C.H. Booth Library to celebrate 40 years of service to the community. Since its inception, MOW has worked to provide healthy meals, five days of the week, to community members needing short- or long-term assistance.

Welcoming Guests

On July 25, a group of 25 Chinese students between the ages of 12 and 17 arrived in Newtown for a three-week stay with host families in the area. The students were with Educational Homestay Programs, a division of Education First (EF).  Henry Kesner, operations manager for the North American office of EF headquartered in Boston, said that the program was first launched in Newtown in 2012.

“Newtown is a safe and lovely community, and close to major cities,” said Mr Kesner, as to why this town was selected to take part in the EF programs. Newtown families have opened their homes to French and Italian students the past two years, and this year, nine families hosted 16 of the students from China.

C.H. Booth Library hosted an open house this past September unlike others in its long history. The chbMakers Open House was an all-day opportunity for all ages to experience the disbursement of information that comes not from books, but from the passions and expertise of other community members.

Workshops in subjects that ranged from Scratch Coding for computers and soldering to arm knitting and modular electronics attracted a curious crowd. Geared for all ages, visitors dabbled in all kinds of projects under the guidance of skilled hobbyists and experts. The chbMakers is a response to the MakerSpace movement that has been sweeping schools, libraries, and other organizations for nearly a decade, bringing together “makers” from communities to share ideas. Related library workshops have evolved from this event.

Edmond Town Hall underwent upgrades in several areas in 2014. The entire building now has wi-fi capability, making it more usable as meeting space. The ballroom of the third floor Alexandria Room was restored and repainted, a new kitchen was installed, and a bride and groom suite was put in place behind the stage. Roofing, electrical, and security monitoring were all updated, the theater switched over to digital and new lighting was installed.

On September 24, Governor Dannel Malloy deeded a 34.4-acre tract of state land, near the Newtown Park and Bark dog park (which celebrated its opening this year; ) and The Brian J. Silverlieb Animal Control Center, to The Catherine Violet Hubbard Foundation for the creation of an animal sanctuary.see separate story

Catherine Violet Hubbard was the 6-year-old daughter of Jenny and Matt Hubbard, who died, along with 19 of her classmates and six educators, at Sandy Hook Elementary School on 12/14. The Animal Center partnered with the Hubbard family, and The Catherine Violet Hubbard Foundation was established.

With a common vision that would encompass a refuge for animals awaiting adoption, a learning center, a community garden, and a welcoming property providing outdoor access to trails and places of quiet contemplation, the Hubbards, and Monica Roberto and Harmony Verna of The Animal Center have since worked to educate themselves about the needs of the Newtown community and best practices for an animal sanctuary. The foundation hopes to fulfill its dream of providing a safe and healing space for domestic and farm animals, people, and as a place honoring the land itself. Find out more at cvhfoundation.org.

An addition to Mt Pleasant Hospital for Animals on Mt Pleasant Road, completed in the fall, means expanded services and the ability to offer a smoother workflow, enhancing care to the clients of the veterinary hospital, said Dr Rakesh Vali, current owner of the practice. The hospital was founded in 1977 by the late Dr Brian Silverlieb, and has been housed in a converted antique home for the past 37 years. With the client list growing, it became clear to Dr Vali that additional veterinarian associates were needed. The new space accommodate more patients and more doctors on staff, and adds a private tranquility room for clients bidding farewell to furry friends.

The list of organizations and businesses that have contributed to Newtown’s character over the decades, and of those that have recently provided new opportunities in town is impressive. Newtown moves forward, into another year.

Sandy Hook Promise has implemented and hosted a number of programs this past year focused on mental wellness, school safety, and gun safety awareness.
Paul Sirois, executive director of Regional Hospice and Home Care of Western Connecticut Foundation, and Cynthia Roy, president and CEO, are all smiles about the great turnout of support at the June 11 Silver Anniversary Hospice Breakfast Fundraiser sponsored by the Newtown chapter.
Front row from left, Chinese leaders "Betty" and "Beryl," EF instructors Lynn Hungaski and Gretchen Ewers, and program director Jill Tino stand with students outside of Edmond Town Hall, where 25 Chinese visitors practiced English language skills each morning of their visit to the United States.  The students arrived in Newtown July 25, for a three-week visit.
Newtown Meals On Wheels celebrated 40 years of service to Newtown in 2014. MOW was one of many longtime Newtown institutions celebrating a milestone anniversary this past year.
A 30-acre tract of land located off Old Farm Road was deeded by Governor Dannel P. Malloy to The Catherine Violet Hubbard Foundation in September. It will one day become the site of an animal sanctuary, through efforts of the CVH Foundation and the Newtown Animal Center.
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