Freelance writer and communications consultant Sharon Cohen has self-published Newtown: Moving Forward, A Community Faces the Future After Adversity. The book describes and highlights approximately 75 local organizations that were created in the aftermath of 12/14. Ms Cohen received her first batch of the books on Monday, November 25, and planned to have them in stores by the end of the week.
The purpose of the publication is three-fold: it will serve as a historic document of volunteer and non-profit efforts that occurred within Newtown since 12/14; it will increase awareness of the different organizations in order to promote collaboration, while also addressing gaps in services; and it will, the author hopes, serve as “a representation of positive community change,” she wrote in the book’s introduction.
After collecting ten months of issues of her hometown newspaper, Ms Cohen began in September to diligently go through each issue of The Newtown Bee and other local news sources. She was looking for full stories or the smallest mention of any organization that was formed in the wake of the shootings on December 14, 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School that took the lives of 20 children and six adults.
With residents reeling and trying to heal — while also trying to come to grips with what had happened that Friday morning — organizations like We Are Newtown, HealingNewtown, Newtown Action Alliance, Sandy Hook Promise, My Sandy Hook Family Fund and dozens of others were created by and for residents to try to help each other cope with myriad issues. Ms Cohen counted on the media to help her find the groups working help others.
She also looked for mentions of already-established organizations that stepped up for their hometown.
“I didn’t want to forget those who were already here, that saw a need and did something,” she said. Because of that, Newtown: Moving Forward includes descriptions of programs done by Newtown Friends of Music, Newtown Lions Club and Newtown Woman’s Club, among others.
The book does not include acknowledgement of all events that were organized by out-of-town businesses or organizations, nor does it include local businesses that did special programs.
“They all did a lot, and did very good things, but I wasn’t going in that direction,” she explained. Newtown: Moving Forward also avoids trying to acknowledge each individual who organized a fundraiser or program. “Again, there are too many to pull together. I would feel terrible if someone was left off that list.
“I spent a lot of time going through all those newspapers. I really tried to not leave anyone out,” said Ms Cohen. Having the book self-published is going to be a positive point if she hears from someone who was inadvertently left out of the first edition. She already knows she will be adding The Resiliency Center of Newtown to the next edition.
She is already planning a few changes for the second edition of Newtown: Moving Forward. While the current edition closes with an alphabetical listing of website for all of the organization in the book, the next one will open with an index as well, she said.
“That is certainly one benefit of self-publishing,” she said with a laugh. “Once I make additions or large changes, I can have new printings done in just a few days. That’s a big change from the past, when it was months before you could publish again.”
Subsequent editions will also include notations for programs or groups that have ceased operations.
There aren’t chapters for the book, but it is organized into sections (Arts, Art & Dance, Music, Music & Books, Change, Awareness, Family Programs, Funds, Funds & Support, Support, and Remembrance). The final section of the book, Remembrance, includes a photo and description of Rock of Angels, the permanent memorial created by Maine residents and installed behind St John’s Church in August.
Most entries feature a group’s logo, or a photo that represents the work of a group of organization. Most entries offer a description of a group or organization’s mission. Others, like the entries for A Community-Wide Gathering For Healing & Hope-Building and The Sandy Hook Green Ribbon Ride, describe the one-time special events.
The 47-page book is printed on 100-pound matte paper, with a bound binding. Newtown: Moving Forward is printed by Publishing Express.
A published ghost writer and author of several books about starting an online business, Ms Cohen has also co-authored several books about Connecticut and has received awards for her short stories. She is also a former member of Newtown Cultural Arts Commission.
Ms Cohen and her husband, Jean-Henry Mathurin, have lived in Newtown for more than 30 years. They have two sons, Seth and Jordan.
“I am truly humbled by what the families [of the children who were killed on 12/14] are doing in response to their great loss.
“When I starting making lists, and the names of all these foundations set up by the parents in the name of their children, I was humbled,” she said. “I don’t know what I would have done if I had lost a child.”
She was impressed not only that some of the parents found the strength to create funds or foundations in memory of their children, but also at the different avenues parents are taking. The Avielle Foundation, established by Jeremy Richman and Jennifer Hensel in honor of their daughter, to study what could lead a person to commit acts of violence; The Catherine Hubbard Animal Sanctuary and The Catherine Hubbard Foundation, which got its start when Jenny and Matthew Hubbard asked that donations in the name of their daughter be directed to The Animal Center of Newtown, and has since blossomed into serious planning for an animal sanctuary in Newtown; and The Jessica Rekos Memorial Fund, founded by Richard and Krista Rekos to fund several projects that will provide scholarships and riding lessons for children whose families might not otherwise be able to give their children access to the equestrian world, were among the programs that particularly touched Ms Cohen.
Proceeds To Benefit Lions Club Fund
In one way or another, the whole community is grieving from what happened on December 14, 2012, says Ms Cohen.
“It has impacted everyone in Newtown. Trauma is difficult. PTSD ebbs and flows. One day you’re fine and the next day you’re not.
“Encouraging people to get help for mental illness is my passion,” she said, noting that she has battled mental illness, successfully, for 15 years. She had been in the process of creating a project that would help homebound veterans when 12/14 happened.
“I was still trying to decide how exactly I would help them, but put that aside when this happened,” she said. “Mental illness runs in my family. It has always been an interest of mine.”
For that reason, Ms Cohen is donating all the profits from the book, which sells for $15, to Newtown Lions Club of Newtown. The local Lions established Newtown Lions Club Foundation Inc. Sandy Hook Elementary Fund (NLC-SHEF) to help fund mental health treatment for first responders, and Sandy Hook Elementary School families and staff members. It has, according to SHEF Chair Bob Schmidt, paid out more than $200,000 in counseling reimbursement since its creation earlier this year.
“The Lions have committed to at least ten years with their foundation,” said Ms Cohen. “That’s dynamite. They understand this is a long term thing.
“Everyone grieves in different ways. Everybody deals with trauma in different ways,” she said. “Everybody in this town has been traumatized in different ways.
“Some were affected immediately, some were later, others won’t know for years, until a trigger sets it off,” she said. “There’s no rhyme or reason of when, or even if, someone will have PTSD. The Lions know that.”
Bob Schmidt has seen a draft copy of Newtown: Moving Forward.
“It’s a great reflection of the type of people that we have in Newtown,” he said. “It just shows the spirit of reaching out, everybody, for different types of needs.”
Mr Schmidt said that people like Ms Cohen, who has promised to help the Lions and their fund, are appreciated by those administering SHEF.
“It’s such a wonderful thought,” he said of Ms Cohen’s work.
The Lions, he admitted, are “starting to get worried because we underestimated how much money we would need” to continue covering the cost of therapy sessions, and even the co-pays for those who have insurance. Much of the fund has been used to cover art and other alternative therapy, “which most insurance companies won’t give a dime on,” Mr Schmidt said on November 24.
Fortunately, many others have, like Ms Cohen, done what they could to raise funds for SHEF. There have been people who fundraise through marathons, golf tournaments and other events, Mr Schmidt said.
“There is such a great need,” he said. “I don’t want to let anyone down.” Donations of any size for SHEF can be done securely through the Lions Club website (NewtownLions.com).
Mr Schmidt and his wife were in California recently. They met people and the conversation turned to the “So where are you from?”
“When we told them Newtown, they said ‘Ohhhh,’” said Mr Schmidt. “But we wanted to tell them ‘No, it’s OK. It’s going to be OK.’
“This book shows everyone that we are taking care of ourselves. We are on the road, and bouncing back, and we will be stronger than ever.”
Ms Cohen does not plan to have any public programs to promote her book, and was hoping to have it available by the beginning of December.
“I did not want to be pushing this too close to the middle of December,” she said. Newtown: Moving Forward is her gift to the town.
“It was a horrific event, and it’s been a horrible year, but there have been uplifting stories along the way,” she said. “This is my way to help all of us remember the good.”
(Newtown: Moving Forward, A Community Faces the Future After Adversity is available at C.H. Booth Library, 25 Main Street; Butcher’s Best Market, 125 South Main Street; Dodgingtown Market, 57 Dodgingtown Road; Everything Newtown, 61 Church Hill Road; Queen Street Gifts & Treats, 3 Queen Street; The UPS Store, 261 South Main Street (Waterfall Plaza); and Wishing Well Gift Shop, 107 Church Hill Road. Copies of the softcover book are $15 each. The book can also be ordered through Ms Cohen’s website, www.slccommunicator.com; there is a $4.75 shipping charge added to the cost for books ordered online.)