My Nonprofit Reviews
Review for Sandy Hook Promise Foundation, Newtown, CT, USA
“I’m going to shoot you. I’m going to kill you.” Tom yelled at me while pointing the pistol at me. I slowly rose up from the couch, frantically yelled “put the gun down, you can hurt someone” and made my way to the bathroom nearby. Locked inside with the towels and scented soaps, I noticed the telephone on the counter. This was the 80s, and a phone in the bathroom was an uncommon sight. Without that phone to call my dad, and the parents of the boy I was babysitting – I could have become one of accidental shooting statistics now reported weekly across the United States.
Thirty-plus years later, I am the mother of two school aged children. Like many, I reached new levels of despair open learning that 28 people were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown CT. The shooter, Adam Lanza committed matricide, followed by murdering twenty children ages 7 and younger, six school staff members, and then committed suicide.
In the three years following Sandy Hook, I got involved in the cause to reduce gun violence. To me, this meant being vocal about my stance on gun law reform. I donated to the advocacy group founded by Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelly, following her survival of an Arizona Mass Shooting. I posted my views on Facebook, I spoke with friends and family. I thought I was doing enough.
On October 1, 2015 – a shooter at Umpqua Community College stormed the campus killing nine and committing suicide in the process. This time upon hearing the news, something changed. I questioned what good I was doing. I doubted how throwing money at advocacy groups, and voicing my opinion on Facebook was making a difference. But what had really changed was….I wasn’t horrified. In fact, I felt numb. I became fearful of desensitization. Was I indifferent? In an attempt to rally myself back to a place of being shocked – I watched a documentary produced by Nightline regarding the NRA’s rise to power. I’d hoped I would recharge my resolve, and generate new ideas on how to “solve our gun violence” problem.
But instead, I sat broken. Defeated.
It’s no use. The NRA has won. Americans, we love our guns. We can’t win. It’s over.
Head in hands, I cried and quit the fight.
The next morning, as a brand new day often does, I found myself staring at an opportunity. With Facebook’s Suggested Page fairies sprinkling their pixie dust on my screen – a beautiful green tree – with leaves made of handprints caught my eye. I spent the next several hours educating myself on the Sandy Hook Promise (www.sandyhookpromise.org), and rediscovered my soul.
Sandy Hook Promise spoke to me, in a way that other efforts hadn’t been able to. It provided a vehicle for volunteering my time, not just my money and social network. I could get directly involved in my community.
I loved how Sandy Hook Promise’s programs were heavily weighted on prevention – not waging war on gun lobbies or alienating responsible gun owners.
I loved that the focus was on mental health first aid programs. That the definition of gun violence was inclusive of suicide prevention & unintentional shootings. That the programs are predominately youth led. Volunteering and spending time with kids – teaching them how to be inclusive of other kids, how to recognize mental crisis in their friends and classmates, how to #saysomething to a trusted adult when they have witnessed a potential sign, signal or threat of gun violence. This spoke to me. That tattling and looking out for your friends and classmates are different. That we need to have a plan for kids, which they can easily follow, should they encounter a firearm unexpectedly. That we open the dialogue with youth on these issues, not brush the tough talks under the rug.
I loved that Sandy Hook Promise’s legislative philosophy is based on upholding the rights of gun owners, while advocating for gun safety, gun lethality (magazine size) and that reducing gun violence is not solely about the gun – that Mental Health advocacy, education and programs are key components.
I signed on as a Promise Leader. A Promise Leader makes the commitment to be an active participate in their community, to bring the Sandy Hook Promise programs to schools, youth centers, places of worship, and any other community organization where we can educate the public on Mental Health First Aid, and other prevention programs like #saysomething, #startwithhello #Keepitsecureandsafelystored (Kiss). That as a Promise Leader, I will educate other adults on the programs and how to get involved.
Before I donated financially, I decided it was time to donate that most valuable of all resources – time. I created a plan for how I was going to get involved with Sandy Hook Promise within my community, starting with the local middle and elementary schools my children attend.
Sitting in my son’s middle school principal’s office, I was fearful that he would view me as “an overly involved, helicopter parent”. I presented my reasons for signing on as a Promise Leader and that I wanted to get our middle school, and other schools involved with Sandy Hook Promise Programs. That I felt our public school systems were already strapped, and thin on time and resources, and that I wanted to be “the heavy lifter” to help get Sandy Hook Promise off the ground running for them.
As I sat looking at my son’s principal, nervous about what he would say, he began slowly, “Penny, this cause is one that is near and dear to my heart. We are all very concerned that something like this could happen here, in fact, our demographic is not necessarily an if it’s going to happen in some ways it’s a when. Our school already had one lock-down due to a man in a nearby neighborhood brandishing a shotgun as he walked through the streets, so I really want to support this, and in fact have some ideas on how you can get started.”
The look on his face, of surprise and gratitude that a parent would want to help them in this way – answered any doubts. It felt good to show them how much I value all their hard work in caring for our community’s kids.
He gave me unlimited access to the staff, suggested a small taskforce of teachers and administrators, communicated with them that this was something they were to get involved in. He asked me to get involved with the student led News Network and the elected student body and council. He wanted the programs to be student led – which provided me a huge sigh of relief, wondering how I was going to pull this all off with a full time job, a family to raise, and a 90-lb German shepherd nipping at my feet.
We are now in full swing preparing for our first “Say Something” week. A week of inclusion and education events which will dovetail with other positive behavior programs that our county has rolled out to districts county-wide.
Despite all this “doing” and “action” and “communicating” – the biggest gift I’ve received from volunteering for Sandy Hook Promise- is the return of hope.
That a group of families, who experienced devastating loss, could redirect their grief, for the greater good and provide an unwavering example of forgiveness – I am deeply humbled and grateful for each and every one of them.
I owe Sandy Hook Promise so much in return.