Tag Archives: Sandy Hook Elementary School

Sandy Hook Teacher Chooses Hope

Barnes & Noble’s Educator Appreciation Week begins tomorrow.

The Westport store kicks off the discounts-and-more celebration with a special event. Kaitlin Roig-DeBellis — the Sandy Hook Elementary School teacher who led 15 students into a tiny bathroom, saving them all while a killer stalked the halls outside — will discuss and sign copies of her book, Choosing Hope: Moving Forward from Life’s Darkest Hours.

It’s a compelling read. (Readers can skip the chapter about that horrific day nearly 4 years ago, yet still understand her important, uplifting message about purpose, perspective and the power of choice in overcoming adversity.)

Kaitlyn Roig-DeBellis and her former 1st grade students get together a couple of times a year. Their bonds are strong, following the Sandy Hook tragedy.

Kaitlin Roig-DeBellis and her former 1st grade students get together a couple of times a year. Their bonds are strong, following the Sandy Hook tragedy.

Many of Kaitlin’s friends and relatives will be in the audience. That’s to be expected: She grew up in Danbury, and has spent her life in Fairfield County.

But there’s an even stronger Westport connection than that.

Kaitlin — who knew when she was 3 years old that she wanted to teach — got her 1st job at Greens Farms Elementary School. During the 2006-07 school year, she was a long-term sub for the reading specialist.

“I loved every second of it,” she says of that time, a decade ago.

Kaitlin Roig

Kaitlin Roig-DeBellis

There’s another local tie-in too. When Kaitlin was 23, she learned that both her birth mother and father had grown up in Westport. Her birth mother graduated from Staples High School. Kaitlin also discovered she had a sister 9 years younger, from Westport.

Kaitlin has developed a relationship with her birth family. “I’m blessed to have them in my life,” she says. A chapter in her book describes her first meeting with her birth mother.

And — in another coincidence — Kaitlin’s adoptive mother grew up in Wilton. But she spent a year at Staples, after a fire at that school.

Kaitlin’s Barnes & Noble appearance celebrates both Educator Appreciation Week and publication of the paperback edition of Kaitlin’s book.

kaitlin-roig-debellis-choosing-hopeWhen the hardcover copy appeared last year, her book tour took her all across the country.

On Saturday, she looks forward to being here. Westport, after all, is the town where her birth parents still live.

And where Barnes & Noble sits just a few yards from Greens Farms El, where Kaitlin’s life as a teacher began.

(Kaitlin Roig-De Bellis speaks at the Westport Barnes & Noble tomorrow — Saturday, October 8 — at 3 p.m. A portion of the proceeds from sales of Choosing Hope go to Classes4Classes, Kaitlin’s non-profit foundation dedicated to eradicating hate, one classroom at a time.)

Newtown Prayer Vigil Is Canceled

Bad weather has canceled the Newtown candlelight vigil, scheduled for this evening on Veterans Green.

Rev. Alison Patton of Saugatuck Congregational Church sends along these remarks, which she had planned to deliver tonight:

On this anniversary of the Sandy Hook shootings, we hold in our hearts:  families still heartbroken and a community still struggling to heal; siblings and classmates, teachers, pastors and first responders; community members working together to forge a way forward; all those for whom today stirs up fresh waves of grief. Holy One: wrap us in your powerful, comforting embrace.

And God? Even as we mark this anniversary, bullets continue to fly and children continue to fall (another 26 children every three days!), so we also ask for the courage to turn this world around. We give thanks for courageous voices; for all those working to overcome fear, reduce violence and nurture compassion.

Lend us all resilient spirits and hearts filled with hope. Turn our dismay into determination. As the people of Newtown struggle to find their footing and claim a future defined by more than the events of December 14th, 2012, help us all to craft a future in which all children can thrive. Amen.

Candlelight vigil


December 14, 2012

Newtown collage

Candlelight Vigil Commemorates Sandy Hook

The Interfaith Clergy Association of Westport and Weston will commemorate the 1-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook tragedy with a candlelight vigil tomorrow evening (Saturday, December 14, 6 to 6:30 pm.).

Clergy of all faiths will gather on Veterans Green — opposite Town Hall — for a series of readings and prayers, to remember the lives that were lost.

Candlelight vigil“This is an opportunity for us to come together, one year later, in prayer, reflection, and hope,” says Rabbi Jeremy Wiederhorn of The Conservative Synagogue, and current president of the Interfaith Clergy Association.

Last year, the organization held a similar vigil following the tragedy, attended by several hundred people.

If it snows (as predicted), the vigil will take place on the steps of Town Hall.

Paying It Far Forward: From Mississippi And New Jersey To Long Lots

Tonight, the Board of  Education will vote to build a $117,000 playground at Long Lots Elementary School.

And it won’t cost Westport taxpayers a dime.

It’s a gift from the New Jersey State Firefighters’ Mutual Benevolent Association.

And if you wonder — as I did — why the NJSFMBA is donating a playground to an affluent town 2 states away: read on.

Sandy Ground logo

The donation is part of the “Sandy Ground: Where Angels Play” project. Based in Rahway, NJ, it honors all 26 victims of the Sandy Hook shootings, while also helping communities in the tri-state area hit hard by Hurricane Sandy.

A week after the storm devastated much of the New Jersey coast, Billy Lamb called the NJFMBA state office. The Mississippi businessman remembered New Jersey firefighters, and the playgrounds they built there in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Lamb said the communities of Waveland and Bay St.  Louis, Mississippi were collecting Christmas gifts for New Jersey children affected by the storm. They were “paying it forward” to those who had showed such kindness in their own hour of need.

During a nor'easter, Gail Cunningham Coen welcomed Waveland mayor Tommy Longo to her Compo Beach home.

During a nor’easter, Gail Cunningham Coen welcomed Waveland mayor Tommy Longo to her Compo Beach home.

(Waveland and Pass Christian are well known to Westport. Gail Cunningham Coen is senior vice president of Keep America Beautiful, and has worked hard to rebuild both communities. She’s even hosted their mayors here.)

In December a trailer containing over 1,000 wrapped Christmas toys arrived from Mississippi, for Monmouth County kids.

The gesture energized exhausted NJFMBA members.  Unfortunately, at the same time the nation was reeling from the shooting of 20 children and 6 adults, not far away in Newtown, Connecticut.

The NJFMBA wanted to do something to help — but how could New Jersey firefighters be productive and meaningful? Suddenly — thanks to the gifts from Mississippi — the playgrounds they’d built 7 years earlier provided the answer.

“The Sandy Ground Project: Where Angels Play” was born.

So 26 playgrounds — in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut — will be built,  in an attempt to connect 2 tragedies that eerily share the same name.

Dylan Hockley

Dylan Hockley

The Long Lots playground honors Dylan Hockley, the little boy who’d moved to Sandy Hook from England 2 years ago, and who died wrapped in the arms of his teacher, Anne Marie Murphy.

The total cost could reach $2 million.  But when NJFMBA members debated whether it could be done, they kept coming up with the same answer. Not only could it be done; it had be done.

Pending approval of the gift (!), construction will begin next month.

But you can thank the New Jersey State Firefighters’ Mutual Benevolent Association any time you want.

(“The Sandy Ground Project: Where Angels Play” can be reached at 1447 Campbell St., Rahway, NJ 07065; www.thesandygroundproject.org; 732-499-9250.)

(Click on the video below, or click here for a direct link to YouTube.)