Twenty Newtown teenagers and five chaperones traveled to Loveland, Colo., the final week of July, repairing homes damaged during flooding there last fall. Students Clare Boyle, Kate Fallon, Teresa Forlenzo, Larkin Huffman, Alexandra Lotko, Remy Tetreault, Jessica Thompson, Rose Wheway, Rachel Wolf, Michelle Zarifis, Zachary Aumueller, Sam Cox, Joseph Duero, Cayden Dunn, Nolan Fisher, Camden Fowler, Alexander Hess, Nicholas Roche, Owen Sandercox, and chaperones Jen Marlin, Sue Vogelman, Rob Ryder, Rick Haylon and the Reverend Kathie Adams-Shepherd of Trinity Episcopal Church made up the group, according to Mr Haylon.
“The week was filled with struggles and triumphs, learning and mentoring, a little time for play, and lots of hard work,” said Mr Haylon.
Upon arrival the Newtown contingent was divided into two work groups, working at two different homes. One home required drywall replacement on the entire first level, “plus a heavy dose of landscaping tasks.” A mile down the road, the second work group assisted with replacement of decking, flooring, roofing, and other jobs.
“The residents recounted stories of the flood, describing how suddenly it hit and how high the water got,” said Mr Haylon. “They showed where neighbors’ houses used to be, and told of friends they lost. The Newtown youths, while deeply moved, did their best to comfort their new friends and redoubled their commitment to help,” he said. Work progressed well through the week as the volunteers mastered new skills and confronted construction issues in the rain.
The rain did not scuttle plans for an evening mountain hike around Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park, though, with trash bags happily fashioned into rain ponchos.
Midweek found the volunteers headed two hours south, to visit the Columbine Memorial in Littleton.
“The teens and chaperones spent 90 minutes in the rain absorbing the grace and solemnity of the memorial site,” Mr Haylon said, “learning about those who were lost, and recognizing overwhelming similarities in the response of that community to ours. The group left a Ben’s Lighthouse ‘Helping Is Healing’ T-shirt on the wall, as a symbol of fellowship between the two towns.”
Members of the Rebels Project, survivors of the Columbine and Aurora shootings who have come together to help communities that suffer from similar tragedies, gathered with the Newtown visitors at dinner time, engaging in personal conversations. These meetings were, without question, Mr Haylon said, the most meaningful part of the trip to everyone involved.
An airing of a news story on the group’s efforts, on Wednesday evening, resulted in an offer for free dinner the last night the group was in Colorado, at Senor Raphael Mexican Restaurant, Mr Haylon said.
“The owners had seen the news story and were overwhelmingly moved by the work of the Newtowners. Patrons showered the group with thanks and the owners served huge helpings of delicious food — and handed the chaperones a donation to begin the funding for next year’s trip,” he said.
“Since the conclusion of the trip, the teens have written of the experience as among the most wonderful and helpful in their lives. These kids came to work and in the end they accomplished much more than we had expected. It was a true pleasure for all of us chaperones to work with them,” said Mr Haylon. Many have written of the connections formed, with residents of Loveland and the survivors of Columbine and Aurora, he added.
The Colorado Flood Relief trip was funded entirely by Ben’s Lighthouse, as was last summer’s Oklahoma Tornado Relief trip, ensuring that participation would be possible for any Newtown teen, without regard for financial wherewithal.
Ben’s Lighthouse is seeking sponsors for next year’s trip to an as-yet-undetermined location. The organization is looking for 20 families, neighborhoods, civic groups, or corporations to each sponsor a teen, at a cost of $1,000 each. This amount is expected to cover airfare, lodging, rental vans, food, miscellaneous expenses, and a share of the chaperone costs.
For more information, contact Rick Haylon at 203-577-9774.