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Diane Sarna Named To Hearts Of Hope Board Of Directors



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Newtown resident Diane Sarna has been named a member of the corporate board of directors for Hearts of Hope.

The announcement was made last week by Judith Pedersen, founder and executive director of the national nonprofit organization. Hearts of Hope is a pay-it-forward charitable organization where people paint palm-sized ceramic hearts with messages of compassion and love, and then send or deliver them to people and places in need of hope and healing.

The unique keepsake gifts have been distributed to hospitals, military bases, nursing homes, police departments, and firehouses, as well as to individuals in need of a message of hope. HOH-Newtown was formed in 2013.

“She will be part of a governing board for our corporation,” Pedersen said last week via e-mail. “Diane will continue to work closely with Pattie Ptak and the Newtown chapter.”

Ptak is president of the local chapter. She is also part of the nine-member board.

According to Pedersen, Sarna will work on a new HOH program being rolled out nationally this year in middle schools called “from grief to GRIT,” and she has arranged for HOH-Newtown chapter events to be presented by the Newtown Community Center “once things open up” following the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 58-year-old Newtown resident has gone full circle with HOH, from finding a painted heart left to be discovered in a public location and then painting hearts of her own, to delivering hearts and now serving on the organization’s board.

The Starting Point

Diane Sarna first learned about Hearts of Hope when she found one of its hand painted hearts hanging from a tree outside C.H. Booth Library shortly after 12/14.

“I clearly remember the day I found a heart in a red mesh bag hanging from a branch at C.H. Booth Library,” she shared this week. “It was a difficult day, and I was choking back tears when I looked up. The card inside said it was painted by a six-year-old boy from New Jersey. The heart was covered in thick brown swirls with a bit of red and green.”

Until recently, that heart was displayed in the foyer of the home Sarna shares with her husband of 32 years. Unfortunately, a recent accident left the ceramic heart broken in shards.

“I still have two hearts hanging on hooks for guests to see when they enter our home,” she noted.

When the Newtown Hearts of Hope chapter was formed, Sarna began attending its monthly “Paint with a Purpose” nights. She quickly discovered that Hearts of Hope offered her “a therapeutic ‘night out’ with friends,” she said. She also learned that artistic talent was not a requirement to create a beautiful heart for the program.

During painting events, she said, “my friend Carolyn and I always laughed at our designs in comparison to some of the more artistic folks sitting near us.

“Still,” she continued, “we always enjoyed ourselves and felt welcomed into the HOH community.”

Held until last March in the gathering hall at Newtown United Methodist Church, HOH-Newtown Paint with A Purpose evenings often included hearing from a spokesperson from the organization chosen to receive that month’s hearts. Sarna recalls hearing from members of Team 26, and representatives from the Ronald McDonald House, Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital, Smilow Cancer Center, and others.

“An old friend from high school who suffered a traumatic brain injury a few years back spoke at one of our paint nights,” Sarna said. That friend later delivered a basket of hearts to Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital’s TBI unit in Boston.

It was during those early, local painting parties that Pedersen met her future board member.

“I met Diane several years ago at a Hearts of Hope painting event hosted by our Hearts of Hope Newtown chapter,” Pedersen said via e-mail on January 18. “I felt an immediate connection with Diane as she described her spirit and passion for service. Her energy seems boundless and her dedication to the causes she loves shines through in her actions and in her words.”

Pedersen is not kidding when she talks about Sarna’s energy and dedication.

Sarna has been teaching for more than 30 years. She is currently a high school English and ESOL teacher in Westchester County.

When not in the classroom, Sarna loves to run writing workshops and take her students on community service trips to build homes in Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic.

She is passionate about assisting organizations like Bridges to Community, Simply Smiles, and AFS International, and was recently invited to be on the board for GraceWorks, which funds health and educational projects in the developing world.

She also volunteers at a local homeless shelter, participates in food drives/distribution, and leads service projects for teens at her temple. In her “free time,” Sarna studies Spanish and teaches aqua fitness, including aquacise classes at Newtown Community Center.

She has two adult biological daughters, a third daughter through the Fresh Air Fund, and a rescue dog who loves to hike with her and her husband.

“I always brace myself when the conversation begins, ‘Always ask a busy person,’” Sarna said via e-mail January 17. “Yes, I am busy between teaching and my volunteer work, but I am passionate about what I do, so I somehow make time.”

The multitasker admitted this week that she was previously invited to join the HOH board. Her schedule at that time did not permit it to happen then.

“At that time I was on another board and had meetings almost every night,” she said. “This time I said ‘Yes’ when asked, and I’m glad I did. I have gotten to know most of the members over the years, and each has a special story, which brought them all together.”

Therapeutic Deliveries

Sarna is also building her own collection of stories. She has painted dozens of hearts during the past eight years, and has heard from some of their recipients.

“A mom received one of my painted hearts whose daughter had been seriously injured in a terrible accident with the Holy Cross rowing team a year ago this January.

“She reached out to thank me, and continues to share updates on her daughter’s journey to recovery,” she continued. “She recently sent me a photo of 25 hearts she and her daughter, Hannah, ordered from Hearts of Hope and painted with the words Faith, Hope, or Love. They plan on delivering them soon to pay it forward.”

She has also been involved in deliveries of hearts painted in Newtown.

“Painting hearts is so therapeutic, but delivering the hearts brings me a great sense of purpose,” she said. “It’s personal. I get to see the recipient receive a heart.

“So many of us understand the feeling of helplessness that follows tragedy,” Sarna continued. “We want to help so desperately. I brought hearts to Parkland, Florida, to be distributed through a local Reform Jewish congregation which had suffered losses within their youth group.”

That trip was “an incredibly emotional journey,” she said, “but one I am glad to have made.”

Sarna’s former rabbi from the United Jewish Center of Danbury was leading the congregation. Sarna found herself sitting in the Florida congregation one week after that high school shooting “and felt such a wave of grief.”

Sarna said when she makes deliveries following tragedies, and she tells people where she is from, the recipients know that she understands their grief.

“I know that a hand-painted heart and personal message does not repair the systemic problems our nation faces such as gun violence, anti-Semitism, or racism,” she said. “Yet, I do firmly believe that receiving the gift of a heart is recognized by the recipient as a token of loving kindness — and that matters. One act of kindness at a time matters.”

Still Spreading Hope

Due to the pandemic, in-person Hearts of Hope painting events are on hold. That does not mean the local chapter is inactive.

Families can order paint kits of varying sizes online with 1, 5,10 or even 25 hearts and all necessary painting supplies at ourheartsofhope.org. The kits come with complete instructions, and the finished hearts can be shipped back to Hearts Of Hope or delivered to the location of one’s choice.

HOH-Newtown has also organized monthly drive-up events in the Newtown Community Center parking lot or the building’s foyer.

“We distribute hearts, paints, and brushes to paint and return the following month,” said the new board member, who has plans to further expand those offerings.

HOH-Newtown is also seeking a high school student volunteer/intern to help with its social media and monthly publicity.

“Not only is this an opportunity for community service, but it could be viewed as an internship for someone interested in this field,” Sarna pointed out.

Hearts of Hope, she added, also has a high school scholarship established to honor a student volunteer.

Newtown resident Diane Sarna has added Hearts of Hope Board of Directors member to her still-growing resume. —photos courtesy Diane Sarna
Artistic talent is not needed, insists Diane Sarna, to create a simple message of hope on a palm-sized ceramic heart. The Newtown resident has created dozens of hearts in the past eight years, including many during quarantine days. —photo courtesy Diane Sarna
Quarantine days have been good days for Diane Sarna to continue working on her growing collection of Hearts of Hope hearts. —photo courtesy Diane Sarna
Hearts of Hope is a pay it forward program where people of all ages and artistic talent paint palm-sized clay hearts with messages and images of hope. The hearts are then delivered to individuals and places that have gone through a tragedy or need a positive message. —photo courtesy Diane Sarna
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