Multiple Organizations To Present ‘A Day Of Shared Experience’

Six community organizations have come together to present “A Day of Shared Experience,” Saturday, May 31, from 9:15 am to 2:30 pm, at Walnut Hill Community Church, 156 Walnut Hill Road in Bethel.

The Community Connections event is being organized by The Resiliency Center of Newtown, Sandy Hook Promise, Newtown/Sandy Hook Community Foundation, Inc, Walnut Hill Community Church, the Town of Newtown, and Newtown Public Schools as a means of helping people understand the trauma experienced 12/14, and developing understanding. It will also serve as a means to learn about coping skills that have worked for others who have experienced trauma similar to that of 12/14.

Attendees will hear from keynote speaker Dr Kevin Becker, a Massachusetts psychologist specializing for 25 years in working with traumatized individuals and communities. Discussion groups and presentations by members of communities affected by violent mass murders will be part of the day. Sensitive subject matter will be addressed, making this event appropriate only for adults ages 18 and up. Secure, onsite childcare by experienced and qualified childcare providers, at no cost, will be available for infants and children up to age 12.

Addressing smaller groups will be Carolyn Mears, the parent of a child who survived the Columbine High School shootings in 1999. She is the author of Reclaiming Schools in the Aftermath of Trauma. Frank DeAngelis, principal of Columbine High School, who was at the school the day of the shootings, will offer his insights. Also from Columbine High School, teacher Kiki Leyba has written and kept journals as a means of coping with that tragedy, which took place his first year of teaching.

Former Columbine High School students Jennifer Hammer, Michelle Ferro and Heather Egeland, who all survived the 1999 shootings, will also speak.

Dina and Robert Parmertor lost their son in the shooting at Chardon High School in Ohio in 2012. They will share their experiences and coping skills. Frank Hall, Chardon High School coach, will be among the presenters from Chardon. Mr Hall is noted for chasing down the shooter, thus saving a number of lives that day.

Joe and Mona Samaha are advocates on behalf of Virginia Tech. Their daughter, Reema, was one of 32 people who died at the school in the 2007 shooting there. Lolly Miller’s daughter was shot at Virginia Tech, but survived. Ms Miller serves on the Board of the Virginia Tech Family Outreach Foundation. Her focus is on mental health initiatives and establishing a positive culture.

Lori Haas is an organizer for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence and has been involved in survivor outreach since her daughter, Emily, was shot and survived the massacre at Virginia Tech.

More than 30 members of the Nickel Mines Amish Community will be at the Community Connections event on May 31. Representatives of families who lost children in the 2006 school shooting tragedy in Lancaster County, Penn.; families of children who were wounded or present at that school; first responders; teachers; funders; and Terri Roberts, the mother of the man who committed those shooting, will speak.

Participants at A Day of Shared Experience will select one morning and one afternoon session in which to participate, from the five breakout sessions offered: Understanding Trauma; Relationships & Parenting Through the Fear and Worry; School/Parent/Community Partnership; Community Connections; and A Role For Forgiveness? 

Suzy DeYoung, co-founder of Sandy Hook Promise; Stephanie Cinque, CEO of The Resiliency Center of Newtown; and Jennifer Barahona, executive director of Newtown/Sandy Hook Community Foundation said this week that they hope the daylong event will be a means of bringing community members and others impacted by 12/14 together, to hear from those who have shared, but varied, experiences. Bringing in groups of people who are themselves in different places with healing can be educational to others, suggested Ms DeYoung.

A public input process conducted by The Newtown/Sandy Hook Community Foundation this past winter provided feedback reflecting concerns over secondary trauma, said Ms Barahona. People expressed a loss of the connectedness felt throughout the community in the immediate aftermath of the event, and a desire to recapture those feelings, she said.

“A lot of events [since 12/14] were exclusive to certain groups,” said Ms Cinque. “This event is a way of bringing everyone together. It is all-inclusive and for anyone who feels impacted by the events of 12/14,” she stressed.

People may not even be aware that certain mental and physical issues experienced the past 17 months are connected to the trauma of 12/14, said Ms DeYoung.

The knowledge of how different people and groups heal on different schedules is one of the main themes she hopes people will come to understand during the day, Ms Barahona said. By hearing from people who have begun to recover from similar experiences, in a variety of ways, she hopes that participants will come away “more open to one another’s perspectives. Not everyone can ‘move on,’” she said. How people can be supportive and remain connected is important, Ms Barahona said.

A Day of Shared Experiences is also an opportunity for others to see how the various help groups in town are able to coordinate efforts and support each other.

“There is a ‘silo’ effect that can happen with various organizations,” said Ms Barahona, “but we recognize that there is a place for everyone.”

That collaboration and working together are the most effective means of helping community members, Ms Cinque said, is a lesson they have learned as the months have gone by since the shootings at Sandy Hook School.

“To really help, it is great to know what other organizations provide. We’re just a piece of the puzzle,” Ms Cinque said.

The day will begin at 9:15 am with a free Continental breakfast and a Community Service Fair. Representatives of several groups throughout greater Newtown will provide information about services and programs available. Dr Becker will speak at 10:15 am, before breakout sessions begin.

Lunch is not provided, but will be available on site for purchase, during the 12:30 to 1:15 pm lunchtime. The Community Service Fair will be open during this time, as well.

Participants in A Day of Shared Experiences can also take part in the special art project on site that day.

A Day of Shared Experiences is free and open to all, but registration is requested and can be done online. Registration for childcare is found at that link, but must be provided no later than May 23. Walk-ins are welcome the day of the event, but childcare may not be available if not pre-registered.

“It is about post-traumatic growth,” said Ms DeYoung. “I’d like people to leave [the May 31 event] knowing you can walk away from a traumatic event and actually be stronger. I hope people will learn skills to do so,” she said.

Life is about building relationships and making connections, stressed the three organizers.

“This could be a day,” Ms DeYoung said, “on how to move forward in a positive way.”

For detailed information on A Day of Shared Experiences, visit www.nshcf.org.


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