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Sandy Hook Promise Co-Founder Tim Makris Departs Organization



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A co-founder of the locally based advocacy nonprofit Sandy Hook Promise (SHP) has resigned, telling The Newtown Bee he is turning his full attention to his family with plans to take time for self-care as well.

Tim Makris, a former Proctor & Gamble executive who had a child in Sandy Hook School as the events of 12/14 unfolded, devoted himself to the mission of SHP, hosting the organization’s initial meetings in his own home. The organization, reportedly a $17 million operation with just under 100 employees today, also counts local residents Mark Barden and Nicole Hockley as co-founders.

“It’s all good,” Makris said. “I had actually been thinking about this since last August. It really just comes down to spending more time with family, and on myself. It’s been an incredible eight-year ride and I’m super proud of the organization, the team, volunteers, and donors. But the time has come for some self care now that the organization is up and running.”

Makris’s child was in the school on that December morning and was physically unharmed. Barden lost his son, Daniel, and Hockley’s son Dylan was also among the 20 children killed along with six school staff members.

Both Barden and Hockley remain managing directors of the organization. Bill Sherlach, whose wife, Mary, a school psychologist, was killed that day, is the fourth SHP co-founder and a current board member.

Since its formation in the aftermath of the school shooting, Sandy Hook Promise has achieved nationwide attention for its programs and policy initiatives to protect children from gun violence. Upon notifying SHP staffers of Makris’ planned departure, the nonprofit issued a statement thanking him and wishing him all the best.

“Along with Sandy Hook Promise’s other founders, Tim had the vision and commitment to help build what Sandy Hook Promise is today — an organization that supports sensible program and policy solutions that address the ‘human side’ of gun violence.

“The important work we do to save lives is moving forward and our focus is on the more than 11 million students, educators, parents, and community leaders who have participated in our programs to prevent the tragedy of gun violence in their homes, schools, and communities,” the statement continues. “Sandy Hook Promise will be appointing an interim Chief Operating Officer (COO), [who] along with Nicole and Mark, will continue to lead and build Sandy Hook Promise’s success and impact as we search for a longterm addition to our leadership team to take us into our next decade of work.”

Makris said he and the other co-founders went to work so quickly forming SHP after 12/14, “that I never had a chance to work through it on a personal front, and I think when you add to that the day-to-day interaction with Mark and Nicole, and you get these [frequent] reports about shootings with what you call second-hand trauma, you’ve got to take care of yourself.

“When you’re on a mission, creating change, and you’re seeing that change happen first-hand, you just want to see it keep going. You get in a zone, if you will, of driving forward and you can put yourself and your family on the back burner,” he said. “So it got to the point where it was time for a change — to find something that will afford me some more time with my kids.”

Reacting To Tragedy

Makris said he and the SHP team were positioned to react whenever there was a mass shooting — then the calls started coming in on Valentine’s Day 2018. Without a doubt, Makris said, the Parkland shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School was a gut punch.

“Parkland really took me down quite a bit. It hit home on so many levels. It was really hard to recover from that one,” he said. “But any and every event, whether they had a few victims or many — they all take a toll on us. I think how we respond to these, it speaks to the humanity and the heart of what we do.”

Every new incident and every call left Makris and the SHP team working through the grief of being retraumatized, but at the same time honoring their obligation to mobilize as quickly as possible to reach out and offer informed support.

One of the high points of Makris’ involvement with SHP was learning that a school shooting threat in Ohio had been interrupted because students reporting their concern about a fellow student’s behavior were inspired to do it after participating in a SHP education program.

“At that moment we realized we had something special, and we need to have these trainings drive awareness. That accelerated our work on the app, the videos we have done that now have over 100 million views, and the [countless] training sessions we’ve done since,” Makris said.

Eight years on, Makris reflected on the early choices that have helped lead SHP down such a successful path.

“After 12/14, we took a good year to sit back and assess what the gun violence prevention movement was, who was in it, what was working, what wasn’t working, and what was missing,” he said. “We did that through an enormous number of interviews, research, meeting with politicians, and understanding the process of passing policy, and then we identified the gaps and went to work filling them.”

He said the SHP team discovered virtually all the gun safety movements focused on policy, but nobody was “in the space of program change — how to engage people with this issue and keep them engaged in their own community.

“So we launched being moderately positioned and program-driven to raise awareness,” he said, “and we would create policy to support those positions. Nicole, Mark, and I just decided this is what we wanted to be and this is how we were going to do it. And it started working. We are so proud how many people we’ve helped know the signs. And when they do, they can stop school shootings, and things like self-harm and suicide. Call it luck, divine intervention, but it was making a difference.”

Early Frustrations

Makris said soon after 12/14 he became frustrated over failed efforts to pass a national background check legislation.

“What that did to us was make us ask ourselves why. Why can 26 children and adults in Sandy Hook be killed the way they were and policy not be passed? And we learned really quick that if you’re polarizing people, it’s hard to have a discussion. It’s hard to move people to the middle and find consensus and a way forward,” he said. “So we felt it was important to take a position, and to inspire more Americans to lean in on the engagement front. We had to come up with a moderate, reasonable voice. And we decided to take that role and it’s really paid off in terms of presenting programs and creating policy on a state level.”

Makris said one of the primary drivers of SHP’s success is the ability to engage young people.

“Our SAVE [Students Against Violence Everywhere] Promise Clubs have helped sustain our programs, and if the kids in these clubs want to get involved in policy-making, they can. That initiative is exploding right now thanks to the leadership of our organization and the kids themselves spreading the word. It has its own momentum, and it’s going to continue to grow.”

The departing SHP co-founder also recognized the need to utilize powerful corporate-level marketing and communications systems to complement and propel the grassroots aspect of the organization’s efforts to huge audiences.

“Social media has really accelerated the ability to make change, but grassroots can’t work as effectively by itself. You need corporations to lean in because they have a powerful voice and a responsibility,” he said. “We were fortunate that we had an amazing network of people we had worked with in our individual corporate worlds. So through a combination of us reaching out to them and their reaching out to us, that got them involved. And it really made a difference.”

As he looks forward to time away from SHP, Makris told The Newtown Bee, “I have no regrets — I would do it all over again. Now I’m looking forward to a new beginning, while leaving Promise with much pride and happiness about how well our programs work.”

Tim Makris, a co-founder of the locally based advocacy nonprofit Sandy Hook Promise has resigned, telling The Newtown Bee he is turning his full attention to his family with plans to take time for self-care, as well. —photo courtesy Tim Makris
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