The Newtown Action Alliance, a grassroots organization created in the weeks after 12/14 to reduce gun violence through legislation and broader cultural change, has formed a Junior Chapter for and led by teens.
David Stowe, chairman of the Programs Committee, emphasized the long-term significance of getting young people involved.
“The Junior Chapter, we feel, is probably the best opportunity for there to be any significant cultural change because our teens are our future voters and our future leaders,” Mr Stowe said.
David Ackert, founder and chairman, pointed out that the Junior Chapter operates with a certain level of autonomy and independence.
“We’re not telling them what to do; we’re providing a platform and facilitating however we can, so they can decide what to do to make sure 12/14 never happens again,” Mr Ackert said.
The Newtown Action Alliance is raising funds to help send young people to an upcoming PeaceJam at the University of Connecticut, Storrs, on April 6 to April 7. Jody Williams, 1997 Nobel Peace Prize recipient, will be involved with student sessions both days of the event.
Participants will join small group workshops on topics such as peace building and activism as service. Everyone will participate in an art-based service project that brings attention to genocides and atrocities being committed around the world.
The Newtown Action Alliance wants to use the funds raised to sponsor children to alleviate any financial burden that may keep them from attending.
“We’re looking to raise scholarships for the kids. We’re looking to send chaperones, there are lodging costs and there are food and travel costs,” Mr Ackert said. “We’re looking to underwrite the costs and let as many as these kids go as possible without putting a burden on any of the children or their families.”
Mr Ackert said that the sponsorship money would be used to underwrite the expenses of children not just from Newtown, but surrounding cities, including urban areas, such as Bridgeport.
“It’s not just about these little far-out towns like Newtown, but these inner cities that also experience violence. We want to link arms with them and make sure everyone is represented,” Mr Ackert stated.
While the Junior Chapter has made significant connections within the state of Connecticut, its reach has extended beyond the state’s borders and has exceeded Mr Stowe’s expectations.
“We’ve already been contacted by teens in Jersey, Virginia, Chicago, as well as Massachusetts. It’s taking off a lot faster than we thought it was. Everyone wants to be involved with Newtown kids,” Mr Stowe said.
Sarah Clements, a junior at Newtown High School and the leader of the Junior Chapter, is one of eight students from Newtown who are signed up to attend the PeaceJam.
“I’m looking forward to being with 300 people, student-leaders from New England, who are interested in doing the same things we are, which is making positive change,” Sarah said. “And I’m looking forward to meeting Nobel Peace Prize laureates and presenting to them what Newtown can do.”
Sarah said the connections the Junior Chapter has made with students from urban settings, such as Bridgeport, transcends socioeconomic differences.
“Even though we have boundaries of race, ethnicity and religion, geography, and wealth, we are the same because it comes down to our experiences and that’s what’s important,” Sarah said.
She feels fundraising is important to make sure everyone who wants to participant can do so.
“I don’t think money should deter anybody from doing something they feel is important. I don’t think that should deter students who have gone through so much and have so much to say from doing things. And this will be life changing,” Sarah said.
Donations can be made at www.payitsquare.com/collect-page/10686. Any students interested in the Junior Chapter of the Newtown Action Alliance can join its Facebook group, “Jr Newtown Action Alliance.”