Through laughter and tears, sisters Sarah and Hannah D'Avino and their mother, Mary, spoke briefly on May 10 about their late sister and daughter Rachel D’Avino, who was killed on 12/14. She was a teacher’s aide and behavioral therapist at Sandy Hook School.
“We’re going to help continue Rachel’s dream of helping [children with] autism,” said Mary D’Avino.
Now traveling a similar career path to aid children, Hannah wiped at her tears as she and her mother addressed a group gathered Saturday, May 10, for the dedication of an Autism Resource Center at C.H. Booth Library. She said she has some “great, big, awesome shoes to fill,” as she pursues a career inspired by her late sister.
Honoring both Ms D’Avino and Anne Marie Murphy, who also worked at the school and was killed on 12/14, Autism Speaks, a leading autism advocacy organization, and C.H. Booth Library dedicated the Autism Resource Center to the two special needs teachers. The center, located on the library’s third floor, now stands in memory of Ms D’Avino and Ms Murphy, educators who “dedicated their lives to those on the autism spectrum,” states a recent press release.
Ms D’Avino’s sister Sarah had said at the ceremony, “It’s important to do this for Rachel and Ann Marie.” Recalling her own lack of knowledge of autism, she said, “I don’t want there to be people like me with questions. I want autism education to be common knowledge.”
The space dedicated to the resource center at the library includes approximately 150 books and other resources about autism including an iPad pre-loaded with autism apps that were donated by Autism Speaks.
A comfortable seating area displays original artwork donated by a local autism advocacy organization. A decorative heart representing Families United in Newtown (FUN) stands at the center of the area. FUN Founder and resident Linda Jones lost her autistic son Tyler, who died in 2009 of Sudden Unexplained death by Epilepsy. FUN is a recreational program for families with special needs children to come and participate in activities.
At a podium in the upstairs library room, which resembles a plush den, a sign hung from a podium that read, “Autism Speaks, it’s time to listen.” Library Acting Director Beryl Harrison then introduced guests including Autism Speaks Executive Vice President of Strategic Communications Michael Rosen and the organization’s president, Liz Feld.
As guests quieted, First Selectman Pat Llodra, a former longtime educator, told a story from 1989.
“I had the opportunity to work with a student on the spectrum,” she said. His name was Luke. “I was uninformed at the time; I knew nothing,” she said. But she became Luke’s friend, and his safe place. Luke graduated, and today has a family and successful career of his own. Mrs Llodra, remembering how an autistic student had touched her life, said, “I always say – to make an issue real, make it about someone you love.”
Soon, Ms Feld stood before guests.
“It takes a village, a circle of people to care for an autistic child,” she said. She spoke of love and compassion and the example she wants to set through the resource center. In its planning, she said its coordinators “took our time to find something enduring.” She also hopes that through education, more younger people will go into the fields of study and care for autism. She said, “We’re committed to this for the long haul.”
Ms Jones next spoke of her son Tyler, saying he was talented despite autism. He never spoke, she said, but by “wrapping around him with a village, he was cared for.”
As the ceremony ended, Hannah D’Avino explained that she is studying Applied Behavioral Analysis. She is currently working with autistic students.
“One [student] said my name for the first time,” she said, happy at the breakthrough. Remembering her sister, she said, “Rachel set me on my path.”