Laying The Groundwork For A Place Of Healing In The Heart Of Newtown
A rough path at the end of Old Farm Road leads to the top of a hill overlooking a property filled with beds of past-season goldenrod, milkweed pods exuding feathery seeds, and waist-high grasses. Jenny Hubbard, Monica Roberto, and Harmony Verna pause there. They are looking beyond the overgrown brush to a vision they have held close to their hearts for the last year and a half.
It is here that they hope The Catherine Violet Hubbard Animal Sanctuary will rise from the ground, providing a safe and healing space for domestic and farm animals, people, and as a place honoring the land itself.
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. In the wake of her death, the Hubbard family directed memorial donations to The Animal Center of Newtown, knowing Catherine’s love of animals large and small. The outpouring was so great, that it quickly became clear to Ms Roberto, president and founder of the cat and dog foster care program, and Animal Center Vice President Harmony Verna, that it was the opportunity for a broader program.
The Animal Center partnered with the Hubbard family, and The Catherine Violet Hubbard Foundation was established. Working together toward a larger 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, Ms Roberto, and Ms Verna have since worked to educate themselves about the needs of the Newtown community and best practices for an animal sanctuary.
Finding property that would accommodate the vision meant months of poring over potential sites. One stood out to the Hubbards, and on September 24, Governor Dannel Malloy deeded that 34.4-acre tract of state land, nearby the Newtown Park and Bark dog park and Brian J. Silverlieb Animal Control Center, to The Catherine Violet Hubbard Foundation, for the creation of an animal sanctuary
“The beautiful part [of this particular property being deeded to the foundation], is that I saw us here and knew in my heart this is where we are supposed to be,” said Ms Hubbard, Tuesday, October 21. “I was grateful to have the property deeded to us,” she said. It is a gift from the people of Connecticut, she added. “We love the idea that this property once sustained Fairfield Hills agricultural needs. We love that we will be able to restore the property to its original intent,” she said.
“One component,” explained Ms Roberto, “is a community garden. We want people to come here for agricultural reasons. We would love to engage one of the universities with a great agricultural program to help us determine how to return it to it original intention.”
Along with educating themselves, such as the recent visit to Best Friends Animal Society in Utah, where Ms Roberto, Ms Verna, and Ms Hubbard took part in a series of classes on starting and running an animal sanctuary, the foundation has had the expertise of Phil Hubbard (no relation) and Peter Paulos of P/H Architects. The men have drawn renditions of what, Ms Hubbard said, are their visions for the animal sanctuary “in a perfect world.”
Now that the foundation has been given the 34-plus acres, it will be able to refine the plans and move forward with the initial phase.
Phase I of the animal sanctuary will begin with zoning and permit applications, as well as a complete environmental study. The foundation members expect they may encounter some opposition, as they did when appearing before the state general legislation committee. There are people who are concerned about the foundation’s ability to be stewards for the land (see separate story), said Ms Hubbard, and people who see the undeveloped property as a secret space.
The acreage is located to the left of a paved pathway leading uphill, beyond the dog park, just over the bridge crossing the Deep Brook. A wooded section quickly gives way to meadowlands and brush, bordered by aged white pines and tall maple trees. Trails circle the perimeter of the property, formerly maintained by the state, and which the foundation will now maintain. It is a popular place — for those aware of its existence — for dog walkers.
Easing concerns that the trails and access to the property will disappear with the building of the animal sanctuary, Ms Hubbard said that if anything, she envisions additional trails crossing the property. “Love seats” crafted from stumps and fallen trees could become resting places throughout the trail system.
“We realize we don’t need to wait to do things to help. Maybe cleaning up the trails could be a community project,” suggested Ms Hubbard. All will be open to the public, she said, stressing how important it is for the sanctuary to be seen as a part of the community.
Becoming A Reality
She has learned patience in the past several months, Ms Hubbard said. Once, she dreamed of having property in hand by the six-month anniversary of the tragedy — and what would have been Catherine’s seventh birthday. Now, she is content with knowing that the sanctuary will become a reality, in its own time. That reality will be shaped not only by what the foundation learns through onsite visits to other sanctuaries and reading, but by listening to others. They are acutely aware, said Ms Roberto, that they need the input of others.
“We are reaching out to find out what the concerns may be [about the animal sanctuary],” she said.
“We acknowledge that we don’t have all the answers,” said Ms Hubbard. They understand that having the right people in place for planning, and building a continuous source of funding to support the sanctuary is vital. “We want to make sure that whatever we do is done right, from the beginning. I’d rather be patient and thoughtful in all we do,” she said.
The creation of a children’s advisory board, of which Catherine’s 10-year-old brother, Freddy, is a part, makes sure that the development of the sanctuary is seen through children’s eyes, said Ms Verna.
“We’re right in the heart of Newtown. It’s very accessible, and that’s key for us,” Ms Roberto said. “We hope to partner with forestry programs to help us,” she said. They see a place where native plants can be resurrected from the tangle of invasive species to give support to native wildlife.
“This is a living property,” stressed Ms Verna. “We want to use the same compassion we would for any living being,” she said.
A Place For People And Animals
The women see the construction of The Catherine Violet Hubbard Animal Sanctuary as more than just an animal rescue site.
“We hope beyond hope,” said Ms Roberto, “that it’s a place of healing for people and animals.”
Recalling the times that she and Catherine visited “Farmer McGregor’s” rabbit house in the area of The Pleasance behind the police station, and had lunch in the gazebo at the 1 Main Street site, Ms Hubbard said that she would like nothing better than knowing that families were spending time together on the property, maybe sharing a picnic lunch.
“If that’s all that happens in a while, I think that would be a good use of the property,” she said.
When the time comes to begin building, possibly as soon as next spring, Phase I will include a pavilion, with buildings to either side. One building will house the welcome center, the other will be the intake center and, until permanent housing is completed, a place for dogs and cats to live until adopted. Public programs can be conducted in the welcome center until a learning barn is erected, during a later phase. Also in the future is the rebuilding of a barn on the property. Cows, pigs, sheep, and goats will be cared for in the refurbished barn.
“We want to make sure we do right by the animals, so we are starting with just the farm animals we know we will have expertise to help,” Ms Roberto said. “We want to make sure we can do this, without getting in over our heads,” she said.
“Our initial thought,” Ms Hubbard said, “is that the buildings will be at the top of the property, placed so that they don’t block the beauty of the land.” The pavilion in the center will be a gazebo, and the only building topped with red terra cotta tiles.
“That whole structure is Catherine,” said Ms Hubbard, the red tiles reminiscent of her daughter’s red hair. The two buildings that stretch out on either side of it are meant to echo Catherine’s arms, outstretched to welcome all animals and people.
The only disturbance to the property at this point is a flat slab being installed near the top of the hill. There, a white steel sculpture that resembles the open frame of the pavilion to come, will be erected. The sculpture was commissioned by a private citizen, said Ms Hubbard.
“It is just a frame, like the shadow of the pavilion, nothing more,” she said. She hopes it will be a landmark for families using the property — “Meet back at the sculpture.” Eventually, she said, the sculpture will be moved to become part of a memorial garden.
Finding corporate and private sponsors will be crucial during Phase I, as completion of that phase alone is estimated to be $4 million to $5 million. They are grateful to P/H Architects for the design work, done pro bono, and to the people and businesses that have supported the foundation to date.
“There is a cost to everything we do,” said Ms Hubbard, “and we are mindful of how we spend other people’s money.”
“There are so many exciting things we could do,” said Ms Hubbard, making her way down a wooded trail. “The notebook is getting really big.”
The excitement that colors her voice as she speaks of her dreams, though, is tinged with a sadness that lies beneath the surface of this project.
“It is emotional,” she admitted. “The architects, Monica, and Harmony are making Catherine live on in this property. In every new growth, that’s her. That’s what Matt and I want,” Ms Hubbard said. “We know that there will come a time when someone will ask, ‘Who’s Catherine?’ That will be hard, but to me,” she said, “that will be Wow! We’re healing and moving forward.”
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