(This is the 12th 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 help of friends and family, Maureen Gutowski and Margaret Walsh were able to turn the Rock N Roll USA Marathon in Washington, D.C., into a fundraiser for Chase Kowalski, a first grader at Sandy Hook School who lost his life on 12/14.
Both women are Trumbull residents and employees of Fitness 4000 health club in Monroe, where Chase’s mother Rebecca Kowalski was a member. Ms Gutowski and Ms Walsh got to know Ms Kowalski and Chase through the health club, and decided to use the March 16 marathon to raise money for The Chase Kowalski Memorial Fund, set up in Chase’s honor to be a positive force to inspire community healing through family and children-focused initiatives and programs.
According to Ms Walsh, they were able to raise $5,300 for the memorial fund with the help of friends, family, and neighbors, who donated the money. They were by joined by another runner, Eric Swartz, a Virginia man, who heard about the fundraiser and decided to raise funds as well. Ms Walsh felt the event was very successful.
“The race was fantastic, it was a tremendous experience from multiple standpoints,” Ms Walsh said. “Not only did we raise a lot of money, and we raised a little bit of awareness.”
A marathon, which spans a little over 26 miles, allowed Ms Walsh to dedicate every mile of the race to one of the 26 victims of 12/14 in a unique way.
“Maureen and I did something special during the race,” Ms Walsh said. “We created a card that had each of the victim’s names and a photograph and a brief description of that person, and on the back of the card was a brief message to consider doing an act of kindness, and we handed out one to a spectator every mile.”
Ms Gutowski and Ms Walsh are both accomplished runners with multiple marathons under their belts. Ms Walsh has run seven herself, but the special circumstances of this race added an emotional challenge, which reached its crescendo on the final mile.
“We saved Chase for the last mile and that was hardest for me emotionally, simply because Chase was a runner and maybe if he had the opportunity to live a full life he would have run a marathon. I made it through the finish line and just lost it,” Ms Walsh said.
Despite the emotional and physical obstacles, Ms Walsh said it felt good to be able to combine her passion for running with a charitable cause.
“It just felt so wonderful to be able to give back and do something in a positive way,” she said. “Running is something I love to do so it was much more wonderful.”
Message on Marathon Cards:
I am running to honor the memory of
20 children and 6 educators who died
at Sandy Hook Elementary School on
December 14, 2012
26 lives, 26 miles
Please consider doing an act of kindness
in honor of the person on this card
UConn 5k Glows Up The Night For Newtown
Over 300 soaking wet runners braved the steady rainfall, wind gusts exceeding 20 miles per hour, and temperatures in the 40s to run a 5k race in Storrs on an inclement April night. The charity run was organized in part to raise money for the Sandy Hook Memorial Scholarship Fund, set up after 12/14 to support the college costs of siblings of those killed in the assault, the dependents of the adults who lost their lives or were physically wounded, as well as students currently enrolled at the elementary school, who are accepted to the University.
The annual 5k run has taken place over the last eight years and is set up by University of Connecticut Club Sports, which oversees 43 club sports teams at the University of Connecticut, according to Program Coordinator Kate Durant. The run raises money for clubs sports as well as local charitable cause.
Last year was the first time the event was organized to take place at night time, which helped the race stand out from other 5k events. Pushing back the start time proved to be a success, and this year’s event billed as “Glow Up The Night” attracted more runners than any previous year despite the weather.
“It went really well. It was unfortunately on the night with the worst weather we could have had in April. It was freezing cold, with rain falling sideways and upside down,” Ms Durant said, before adding, “I would consider the turnout much more than usual. Last year we had about 225 runners total. This year we had 350 pre-register.”
Ms Durant said the large turnout was partly due to the link between Newtown and the University of Connecticut, a popular college destination for many Newtown High School graduates.
“We have 43 club teams here,” Ms Durant said. “Many of them have players that are from Newtown. At least three or four of our teams are wearing a ribbon with ‘Newtown Strong’ on their helmets.”
According to Ms Durant the event raised approximately $1,000 for the Sandy Hook Scholarship Memorial Fund, which to date has received $1 million in donations.
To find out more information about the fund or to donate money to the fund go to the University of Connecticut Foundation website.
Good Prevails In Green Bay
Green Bay, Wisc., with a population of approximately 100,000 people known for their passionate allegiance to their community-owned Green Bay Packers, harnessed the power of its tight knit community to raise money and support for various Newtown charities set up in response to 12/14.
A benefit concert organized by former Newtown resident John Mazzariello generated $2,400 for the Newtown Memorial Fund. In addition to raising funds, the event also raised awareness for 26 charities focused on the Newtown community by posting a list of charities at the door.
The free event held at Harmony Cafe featured seven musical acts, interactive activities for children set up by local community organizations, and local masseuse-manned massage chairs. All proceeds came from patrons’ donations as well as a silent auction.
Mr Mazzariello, who lived in Newtown for twenty years and attended Sandy Hook Elementary School, still has strong personal and familial connections to his hometown. In addition to his parents, sister, niece and nephew living in Newtown, his mother, Cathy Mazzariello, has worked in Sandy Hook Elementary School as a teacher and administrator, and came out of retirement after 12/14 to serve as the school’s assistant principal.
After hearing about the tragic events of 12/14 Mr Mazzariello, now living 1,000 miles from Connecticut, did not let the geographical distance between his current Wisconsin residence and the community he grew up in deter him from taking action.
“The initial shock of what’s going on and not knowing what happened was difficult,” he said. “Then it set in that I wasn’t there to help. I felt helpless in a way, which is a common feeling in that situation, and that’s where the idea for all of this came from.”
His efforts paid off, not only allowing him to do something positive in the wake of a tragic event, but also gave an opportunity to Green Bay residents to lend a helping hand.
“I was very impressed with the Green Bay community. I felt they really came out in good force,” Mr Mazzariello said. “I met people from all over the state and they came from all over to show support and donate.”
Among the approximately 200 people who attended the event was Green Bay Mayor James Schmitt, who gave a brief speech. Mr Mazzariello paraphrased the Mayor’s message, which empathized unity and compassion.
“His speech was kind of a message of solidarity, and that the community of Green Bay really grieves with Newtown and wants to help,” Mr Mazzariello said. “These types of things can happen in any community, it’s important to remember that, and really empathize and show our compassion to the Newtown community.”
Mr Mazzariello’s father, Rick Mazzariello, a Newtown resident, also attended the benefit, making the long trip to the Badger State to support the event and his son, who performed a song he wrote.
“There was a song that I had a written on December 16 after having thought about everything that happened,” Mr John Mazzariello said. “It was a song that hopefully carried a message of hope and faith for a better future.”
Rick Mazzariello found the event to be additional proof that the forces of good outweigh the relatively rare agents of evil.
“It’s just an example of so many activities, which have taken place around the country and around the world, that show you have so many good people, he said. “We have so few evil people, but there’s a heck of a lot more good than evil, and this kind of thing, it’s very heartwarming to see this type of thing.”
Award Winning Charity Completed in 12/14 Victims’ Honor
A team of volunteers from the Kansas City area honored the victims of 12/14 through award-winning charity work by completing 20 different services projects, with each project reflecting an interest or passion of one of the victims.
The team consisting mainly of employees at Black and Veatch, an engineering, consulting and construction company, received first place in Kansas City Project Change, an annual competitive charity initiative.
Team captains Katie Aguilera and Kaley Moe said the team came up with the idea to honor the lives lost on 12/14 after watching interviews with the parents of the young victims expressing the importance of remembering their children.
Part of the process of accurately reflecting the passions and interests of the victims involved researching the 26 individuals, and then matching their interest with a related Kansas City area charity.
For instance, in remembrance of Jack Pinto, who was interested and participated in sports such as wrestling, members of the Black and Veatch team worked at a concession stand and scoring table at a local wrestling tournament, where they also distributed 550 temporary tattoos that said “Pay it Forward for Jack Pinto.”
Other service projects included donating 120 lunches to children in need in memory of Allison Wyatt, who gave away her snacks to a hungry stranger on a plane; hand delivering donuts to local schools in honor of the six educators; and donating 32 Home Depot kits to an organization that offers residential treatment for abused and neglected children in honor of Chase Kowalski, who enjoyed the workshops at Home Depot.
While each service project held a special meaning, Ms Aguilera and Ms Moe shared a project that stuck out for them. For Ms Moe it was putting together a Super-Hero day at Spofford Home, in memory of Caroline Previdi, who once broke her piggy bank and gave her savings to a local priest to buy presents for less fortunate children.
“We brought a green screen and they got to pose in front of a green screen, it was the coolest thing for them,” Ms Moe said. “That was a great feeling because not only were we there for the children we were able to do it in memory of the victims in Newtown.”
The charitable act that stood out to Ms Aguilera was donating seven books written in Spanish to help form a library in Juarez, Mexico, in honor of Dylan Hockley, who read a book to his parents every night.
“One of our co-workers is starting a library in Mexico, it’s kind of a violent area. She donated books for each night of the week he would have read to his parents,” Ms Aguilera said. “That’s so simple but it’s so meaningful.”
With the service projects complete, Ms Moe realized how much she learned about each of the victims after watching a 60 Minutes interview with some of the parents of the victims.
“I felt like I knew their kids,” Ms Moe said. “The parents would mention something about their child and I would say ‘hey, I knew that!’, after watching them I felt like we did it right.”
The Black and Veatch team members shared that knowledge with each charitable act they completed in memory of the 12/14 victims.
“We had people thanking us for introducing us to the kids,” Ms Aguilera said. “It was hard to watch the footage [but] it was a way for everyone to get to know these 26 people.”
In addition to raising awareness, Ms Moe hopes the team’s charitable activities will provide peace of mind for the parents of the victims.
“As hard as it is for the parents of the victims, I hope they find comfort in the fact that we were able to turn their children’s passions into something that was meaningful to people in Kansas City,” Ms Moe said.
This was the Black and Veatch team’s third year participating in the charity event, which focuses on making a difference in the local community. For the second consecutive year the team’s efforts earned the first place prize of $3,000, which the winning team donates to a charity of their choice. This year the prize money was donated to two Kansas City organizations that focus on providing care and support for children in need, Spofford Home and Kids TLC.
26 Mile Relay Race Honors Sandy Hook
Cooperation, not competition, was the focus of a 26-mile relay race that took place in Gilford, N.H., on April 14. Over 7,000 participants were simultaneously working with their eight person relay teams to complete the course, and with other teams to raise money for the 26.4.26 Foundation, which provides funding for the families of victims, memorials for teacher heroes, and is dedicated to increasing safety in schools across the country.
According to Gilford Elementary School Principal Danielle Bolduc, who helped organize the charity run, the event raised over $30,000 for the 26.4.26 Foundation and included educators from over 70 of the 80 New Hampshire school districts. The money was raised through donations, with each participants suggested to donate at least $1 per mile.
In her first year as principal of Gilford Elementary School and mother of three elementary school students, Ms Bolduc felt compelled to create an event, to honor the victims of 12/14 and to give herself and her staff an outlet to process the tragedy that occurred in Sandy Hook Elementary School.
“I felt like we needed to do something and my entire staff needed to do something,” Ms Bolduc said. “It actually helped us through the process and was our way to get our heads around it and have some good come out of a tragedy like this.”
In addition to raising money for a charitable fund, the event also raised awareness of the 26 victims who lost their lives on 12/14. Instead of traditional racing bibs, which feature a number to identify the athlete, each participant pinned an angel to their clothes with the name and age of one of the victims. Additionally, the start of each mile was marked with a sign that had the name of one of the 26 victims.
The mile markers, as well as food, water and even portable toilets were all donated by local companies. Another 250 volunteers coming from as far away as California donated their time to the event as well, which Ms Bolduc said inspired a feeling of pride.
“I was really proud of everyone who came out and showed their support,” Ms Bolduc said. “No one had to be coerced to do any of this, there were more volunteers we could hope for. I was really proud of everybody.”
Impressed with the turnout and overall success of the event, Ms Bolduc hopes to turn the relay into an annual fundraiser, and wishes to see it held in different school district every year.
“I hope another school or New Hampshire will make this an annual event. I could definitely organize it but I don’t need to host it here,” Ms Bolduc said. “It would be really cool, it’s a great way for new hampshire educators to come together.”
According to Ms Bolduc the cooperation and charity displayed the day of the run was another example of good triumphing over evil.
“That one evil act, there was a thousand good acts that came out of it,” Ms Bolduc said. “It was a great day for everyone who was involved, everything was pretty special.”
“Medicinal Compilation” CD In Production
Songs of Hope for Sandy Hook is currently producing a two CD compilation of songs focused on healing and raising funds for several organizations, including Sandy Hook Arts Center for Kids, Newtown Cultural Arts Commission, and The Anna Marquez-Green Music Scholarship Fund at Western Connecticut State University.
Professional musician Shawn Taylor, whose wife is a second grade teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School, has been putting the project together in hopes his experience in the music industry can facilitate the healing process, and support worthwhile causes.
“I’ve been promoting my own music career for the last five years. I wanted to feel like I was doing more with music other than self promotion,” Mr Taylor said. “I hope we can put together a project people can listen to and feel better, and perpetuate arts and educations.”
The project has been funded through material and monetary donations. All songs on the album have been selected from approximately 40 submission, which according to Mr Taylor have come from all over country.
The CD is expected to be completed and available for purchase in September.
For more information about donating or submitted songs to the compilation visit Songs of Hope for Sandy Hook’s website.
Spike’s Ride For Sandy Hook
Approximately 3,000 motorcycles, custom cars, show cars, street cars, race cars and trucks took part in one of New England’s largest “Show and Shine” events at Lime Rock Park race track in Lakefield, in an effort to raise money for families and first responders affected by 12/14.
The car and truck showcase, which took place April 13, raised more than $26,000 for Adopt A Sandy Hook Cop and the Sandy Hook Family Healing Fund.
Massachusetts native George “Spike” LeGrice organized the event, with the cooperation of Lime Rock Park’s owner Skip Barber.
Job Well Done By Washington School
A Liberian elementary school will be able to enjoy clean drinking water, thanks in part to the charitable efforts of a Mukilteo, Washington high school.
Kamiak High School’s students and faculty raised funds from their community to build a new well for Beneniah Elementary School, located in Buchanan, Liberia, and did so in honor of the victims of 12/14.
The well, built by Well Done Organization, was fitted with a commemorative plaque, which was inscribed with the names of the 27 people who lost their lives on 12/14.