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Gestures Of Kindness, Part 11: From Students To Superstars, Love Continues To Be Shown For Newtown



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(This is the 11th installation of a series of stories that share with readers special events that continue to take place as Newtown heals following the events of 12/14 at Sandy Hook School. It is also a continuation of anecdotes from across the country, of people offering kind gestures on behalf of our town.)

With the creative use of duct tape students at Gibbs Magnet School in Little Rock, Ark., have shown that when kids stick together they can make a substantial difference.

Students of the Arkansas school, which accommodates 300 children in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade, have been selling duct tape trinkets and donating the proceeds to the Healing Hearts Center for Grieving Children & Families, a program affiliated with Danbury-based Regional Hospice and Home Care, which offers bereavement support to those who are grieving the death of a loved one.

The students operate their charitable craft service under the name Kids Stick Together. According to third grade teacher Jessica White, who facilitates the program, the students themselves decided on which charity to donate their proceeds to after she read them a list of options. She said the students chose the charity because it offered support to both adults and children.

“Like one young lady said, when we have problems we talk to our counselors at school and maybe that’s what other students need too,” Ms White said.

The duct tape trinkets include bowties, bookmarks, rose pens, purses, piggy banks, and backpacks. The students’ original goal was to raise $1,000. They have more than doubled their goal, raising $2,500 since the end of December and have a set a new goal of $5,000.

Children donate part of their lunch and recess time to sell their crafts at the school’s cafeteria and playground. Ms White said children voluntarily give up the time and look forward to manning the till. Some students even choose to spend their time outside school, making and selling duct tape knick-knacks.

“A couple of kids have taken products to their church or their neighborhoods,” Ms White said. “Another girl had her birthday party, instead of presents she asked for rolls of duct tape. She made things and kept some things, and donated the rest to Kids Stick Together and donated the tape as well.”

Ms White says even though Gibbs Magnet School fosters a charitable culture, the Kids Stick Together project has been the most ambitious endeavor yet.

“In this school we’re involved in a service project from kindergarten all the way up, helping others isn’t new to them. Being a helper on this magnitude, they have experienced it before,” Ms White said.

The project has become a part of the culture of the school. The students spend their free time learning new crafts to construct and then pass their knowledge on to other classmates. According to Ms White the whole experience has drawn the school close together, and there are reminders everywhere of the students’ creativity and passion, including colorful door screens used during lockdown drills.

“I don’t know if I have the words to describe it,” Ms White said. “You come to this school and look around and this duct tape everywhere. Every school has lockdown drills and before we were putting paper over windows on our doors, now we have duct tape screens.”

The effort, which started as a response to 12/14, may turn into a long term project. Students have been asking if the program will continue next school year. Ms White told the students she will gladly facilitate their efforts for as long as they show interest.

“I told them as long as you’re willing I’m willing. I’ll keep it going if you guys are still willing, they’re willing,” Ms White said. “They’re even talking about what they’re going to do next year.”

26 Hearts For Newtown

The call was put out to artists on social media and by word of mouth; the objective was to recruit 26 artists to create 26 decorated hearts, one for each of the victims of 12/14. Hannah Perry, owner of The Giggling Pig Art Studio in Shelton, who put out the call, said the “Hearts for Newtown” project was answered with a sonorous response.

Ms Perry said she ended up answering many calls herself. She estimates 100 artists from all over the world called her studio to be one of the 26 people chosen to decorate a heart dedicated to one of the victims.

The hearts, which were shaped to resemble a helium-filled balloon, were inspired by the actions of a seven-year-old boy. Ms Perry said her son once tied a note to a balloon in an attempt to send a message to heaven. After 12/14 Ms Perry crafted the balloon-shaped hearts as symbolic missives to the lives that were lost.

Ms Perry said the project was originally a way for artists, including herself, to show that they were thinking of the victims. Since then the scope of the project has grown and now Ms Perry has her sights on displaying the artwork around the country.

“I feel like I needed to do something to show I was thinking of these kids,” Ms Hannah said. “Now we would love for these hearts to travel and to be seen in different states and include a book for people to write down their thoughts, and the book can go to the families of the victims at the end of it to see what people wrote.”

Even though the project features work from 26 artists, who are not familiar with many of the others, and who employ different techniques and styles in their artwork, there was still a central theme according to Ms Hannah.

“It has to be about peace love and hope and everybody was painting with that idea in mind. They’re very cheerful,” Ms Hannah said.

The project united local artists with far flung craftsmen. Some of the artists had a personal connections to the victims and their families. Victoria Soto’s heart was painted by her best friend according to Ms Hannah. Other artists painted their hearts thousands of miles away.

International artist Jared Aufrichtig, painted his heart while living in South Africa. Mr Aufrichtig, originally from Long Beach, heard about the project from a mutual friend of his and Ms Hannah’s. The wooden heart template was mailed to him in early February. He said he spent a month working on his heart, which was dedicated to Avielle Richman.

Mr Aufrichtig included a multitude of artistic mediums in his piece entitled “Avielle’s Jettison Dreams,” including feathers, altered magazine and newspaper headlines, tape off of his surfboard, oil paint, and even South African currency. He said he included a number of objects that he thought Avielle would be fond of. Part of his process involved researching Avielle through reading her family’s blog.

“I really went into small little things she had done,” Mr Aufrichtig said. “There were a couple of movies she really enjoyed and I referenced that stuff. There’s definitely a very almost obsessive-compulsive strategic intention behind everything in that piece.”

Ms Hannah had hoped to display the “Hearts for Newtown” project at HealingNewtown Arts Space, but the recent closing of that location has put that idea on hold. Meanwhile, photos of all the artwork can be found on The Giggling Pig’s website, http://www.thegigglingpigartstudio.com, by clicking on the Sandy Hook Project tab on the top of homepage.

Snowflakes For Sandy Hook

Fight for the Right, a group of residents from the Department of Persons with Disabilities (DPD) in Oak Ridge, N.J., let their concern for the community of Newtown be known by crafting 20 unique snowflakes in memory of the victims of 12/14. Fight for the Right worked alongside the Junior Women's Club of Jefferson Township to complete their project, entitled “Snowflakes for Sandy.”

The Fight for the Right group is comprised of approximately 25 residents of the DPD, A Catholic Charities Agency in the Diocese of Paterson. The DPD serves 74 adults with mental disabilities, and offers housing via nine group homes and two supervised apartments, which are located throughout three New Jersey counties. DPD also offers its residents a vocational day program at a sheltered workshop.

Staff member Mary Ellen Hokenberg facilitates the group along with staff member Kelly O’Caiside and Behavior Analyst Doreen Cook-Wottring. Ms Hokenberg said that Fight for the Right, which focuses on serving the community, empowers its members, who are very eager to be involved in the community and have their voices heard.

The idea to make the snowflakes and send them to Newtown was brought up to the group in a January meeting and was met with great enthusiasm according to Ms Hokenberg.

“There were several of the residents who follow the news and they knew exactly where the snowflakes were going,” she said. “They were so enthusiastic to be part of this project, to reach out and put a smile on some of these children’s faces after these horrific event.”

The snowflakes spent some time decorating the children’s section of the Paterson Free Public Library, and then were compiled in a scrapbook and sent to Connecticut PTA’s Snowflakes for Sandy Hook.

Ms Hokenberg said the goal of the Snowflakes for Sandy project was a way for some of the agency’s residents to give back and lend a helping hand to a grief-stricken community.

“All the residents have so much,” Ms Hokenberg said. “They’re all disabled adults but they feel so fortunate in what they have, and the jobs they have, and in the lovely homes they have. They wanted to help because they thought those children could really use a smile on their face, and a pick me up, and wanted to let other people know others were thinking of them.”

James’s Auction Fetches A King’s Ransom

Pro basketball player LeBron James, who has often been referred to as King James, has raised a royal sum of money for the Newtown Memorial Fund through The LeBron James Family Foundation, by auctioning off a special pair of sneakers.

The LeBron Flywire Nike basketball sneakers that were put on the auction block were inscribed with the words Newtown, CT, Mr James’ autograph, and the phrase “vs Wizards 12/15/12 Never forget!!” The shoes were worn by Mr James on December 15, 2012, in a game between the Miami Heat and Washington Wizards.

According to Vice President and Managing Director Dan Imler the unique shoes fetched $27,584 from an online auction set up by SCP Auctions. Mr Imler said the value of the winning bid was unusually high.

“It’s a fairly extraordinary price,” Mr Imler said. “For example, we had another pair of LeBron James game-use shoes, they were actually from the same season. We got $5,407. That’s more of a typical price.”

Mr Imler attributed the high auction price to the unique aspects of the shoes and an eagerness to contribute to a charitable cause.

“From a collector’s standpoint these are desirable because LeBron himself was expressing his own kind of feelings and emotions regarding the tragedy,” Mr Imler said. “They are certainly more special than ordinary LeBron shoes. Above and beyond that was a willingness to contribute, which was ultimately a big factor in the price.”

SCP Auctions also contributed to the charity by foregoing the customary 10 percent seller’s commission so that more of the money from auction of the shoes would go to Newtown Memorial Fund.

Mr Imler expressed satisfaction with the outcome of the auction and was happy SCP Auctions could play a role in Mr James’s charitable actions.

“We were very, very pleased with the result and glad we could facilitate the sale, and fulfill LeBron’s desire to make a meaningful contribution to the fund,” Mr Imler said.

A Quilt For Newtown

A group of quilters associated with the United Methodist Church in Carthage, N.C., has pieced together 26 individual squares of fabric into a quilt. The quilt honors the victims of 12/14, with each square dedicated specifically to one victim.

Retired teacher Nancy Copeland, who organized the project, gathered seven other people from the rural, tight-knit North Carolina community, located 20 minutes north of Pinehurst, N.C., through word of mouth. Ms Copeland said as a former teacher, and as a mother and grandmother, she felt a need to help.

“I had to do something. I do have a therapy dog, but I couldn’t drive up to Connecticut and bring him, and I had a terrible need to do something,” Ms Copeland said. “Quilting was the only thing I can think of to do.”

Each individual square was crafted to represent something about the person it honored.

“One of the teachers had a black lab so we put a black lab in her square along with other things. We did have to do a little bit of research and hopefully we did it right,” Ms Copeland said.

The project was constructed with the squares commemorating the teachers on the top and bottom rows of the quilt, with the square made for Dawn Hochsprung, who was the principal at Sandy Hook Elementary School, centered in the top row.

Ms Copeland said she put a school and school bell in Ms Hochsprung’s square. The squares memorializing the young students were quilted between the teacher’s squares.

The quilt was finished in February, and Ms Copeland intends to have the quilt hand delivered to Newtown by a person living in the Carthage area. The group is currently looking for a person, place or organization in Newtown that can accommodate the quilt, which is no easy feat considering the overwhelming amount of material that has been given to the Newtown community as a sign of support and compassion.

Ms Copeland stressed the quilt project was not politically motivated and was meant solely to offer comfort and support. Still, Ms Copeland stated she would have gone to Hartford and made her voice be known during the gun control legislation hearings, which were held in the weeks after 12/14, if it weren’t for recent open-heart surgery she is currently recovering from.

“Had I not had heart surgery I would have brought the quilt to the capitol building in Hartford and hung it from the balcony to shame those senators that voted against gun control,” “Ms Copeland said.

No stranger to dedicating her time and effort to good causes, Ms Copeland said she is compelled to help out others and the quilt project allowed her to use her talent in a meaningful way.

“My dog and I, we go every week to a hospital and work in the surgical unit, it probably is more for me than the other people. I need to know I’m helping or making a difference,” she said. “I knew I had to do something and as I say I don’t have that many talents and this is one that I thought I could do to help out.”

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