12.14 Foundation: Giving Youth The Tools To Excel

The father of two young children, Newtown resident Dr Michael Baroody saw the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012, as “an assault on our soul, with no verbal way to communicate what had happened. I felt like I had lost my own kids, but I realized that my world is not just my living room. These Newtown children are our kids and it is our responsibility to protect our kids.”

As he sought a way to understand and move through the horror, he began to realize that language is sometimes a barrier to healing. “I asked myself, what does our community need? What is one nonverbal way to express ourselves?” he said.

Neither an actor nor a member of the performing arts community, Dr Baroody nonetheless thought about the power of music and theater, and how a world-class performing arts center could become a means of moving people forward in a positive, ongoing manner.

“I had observed the healing quality of music in myself and others. I know in my heart, this is the right thing to do. How can we instill tools into our kids to give them confidence the rest of their lives, help them leave Newtown ready to take on the world? That was another question I asked myself. Then there is the physical structure itself, a center where kids can express themselves and a place of excellence,” he said.

He founded the 12.14 Foundation “to remember, to honor, and to inspire through the healing arts.”

Dr Baroody believes that passion and a positive vision can lead to the construction of a prominent performing arts center located in Newtown, that is not just for Newtown children, but is a space that will welcome motivated youth from the area, the state, and eventually, the nation and beyond.

There was some value in the immediate, distracting programs that came to Newtown following 12/14, Dr Baroody said, but giveaway events, in the long term, could leave a legacy of entitlement in the town’s young people and do not provide the important building blocks to become empowered, he believes.

“Kids can only heal if they achieve something they thought they never could. That’s what we need to teach them. [The 12.14 Foundation] wants to give kids opportunities to overcome difficulties in unique ways, and we’ll be there to support them.

“I have no arts connections, so I reached out to the best people in the world with the sole vision of these basic concepts,” Dr Baroody said. “I Googled people. Who has designed these kinds of structures? Who is the best at PR? At marketing? I talked to people — who knows who? I reached out to musicians, choreographers, and to the people who had produced From Broadway With Love last winter,” he said.

Along with Dr Baroody, Richard Pilbrow of Theatre Project Consultants, Jay Winuk of Winuk Communications, Inc, and start-up entrepreneur Fred Holahan now make up the board of directors of the 12.14 Foundation. The former director of Goodspeed Productions, Michael Price, serves as an advisor. “When I reached out to these people and they expressed interest, I said, you should be on the board,” Dr Baroody said. Surrounding themselves with talented people who are knowledgeable in the field has enabled the 12.14 Foundation to put in place programming such as the Seussical The Musical presented last August at Newtown High School.

Featuring a cast of Newtown and area youth, and supported by Broadway professionals, the more than 80 young people involved in the production came away with a lesson in the work it takes to achieve a result of which to be proud, and the creation of something they could give back to the community with pride, Dr Baroody said.


A Goodwill Ambassador

Additionally, the 12.14 Foundation has recently named American Idol winner and country music star Scotty McCreery as its first national goodwill ambassador. Mr McCreery visited with foundation board members and families affected by 12/14 this past December at Edmond Town Hall. According to a press release issued the week of February 3, “He will play an active role in promoting the foundation’s arts programming, supporting its fundraising efforts, and building awareness for the organization’s plans to build a world-class performing arts and education center in Newtown.”

“When we were approached [about becoming the national goodwill ambassador for 12.14 Foundation], I saw the passion they had, and it fit in with what we are trying to do,” said Mr McCreery in a phone interview, Tuesday, February 11. “Having a number one record is nice, but the main thing for me is impacting people’s lives in a positive way through music and the performing arts, and that’s what the 12.14 Foundation is doing,” said Mr McCreery.

“Scotty has accomplished great things at a very young age,” said Dr Baroody. “He shows perseverance and commitment, and is an exceptional role model to young people. He is in college, while maintaining a career. He’s a wholesome role model, and kids can relate to him, because he is so young,” he said, epitomizing the kind of performer the 12.14 Foundation hopes to attract to the proposed performing arts center. “We see Scotty as more than a one-time thing. When we met with him in December, we developed a relationship. He was on board with what we are trying to do,” Dr Baroody said. Mr McCreery’s star value will serve as a welcome public relations piece, reaching people far beyond Newtown, and put a face to the project, he said.

Mr McCreery’s future involvement with the 12.14 Foundation could include leading programs, and even giving input to the design of the center, said Dr Baroody.

“Being the ambassador is something I want to carry around with me. At every concert I’ll be representing [the 12/14 Foundation],” Mr McCreery said. It is a responsibility he takes very seriously. While he has been involved with other charity groups, including the Samaritan’s Purse Operation Christmas Child and World Vision, this is the first time he has been involved with something of this significance in the states, he said.

Just as Mr McCreery looked up to his own father as a role model, as well as country music singers Josh Turner and Brad Paisley, he appreciates that kids connect to him.

“It’s really cool,” he said, “when a kid comes up to you and says, ‘I want to be like you.’ I want to make sure all I do is not something that will disappoint [the kids],” he said.

“I’m lucky to work with some of the best in the business, in music and sound. If the foundation ever needed input, I would love to be able to give good advice, and more than happy to help however I can,” Mr McCreery said.

He looks forward to a return to Newtown. “Hopefully, one day, when the performing arts center is up and running, I’ll be back to maybe do a concert there,” he said.


Feasibility Study

The 12.14 Foundation is currently working on a feasibility study, looking at various sites to situate a performing arts center in Newtown, and fundraising on a higher level. Meanwhile, the organization continues programming to lift Newtown’s youth to high levels of expectation. “We are looking at a couple of different musical shows for this summer, and working with Scotty,” Dr Baroody said.

A multiuse facility that attracts top performers in Newtown, that can provide educational experiences, and that will incorporate technology to reach beyond the borders of the town, state, and country, would be a way to show the world that despite 12/14, our town is not victimized, he said. “Yes, this happened,” Dr Baroody said, “and we’re not okay with it. It has profoundly affected people. We need to take and heal children, put them on our shoulders and give them the ability to do great in life. We need to take a stand against the things that have affected us in negative ways. There is an example we have to set.”

The facility as envisioned could heighten the level of performing arts in the area, and help other like-minded organizations in town, he said. He sees the future performing arts center as a collaborative effort that would be beneficial to all. “It is not just a venue. We want to build something that is unique, like a living room for the town of Newtown. Kids would feel that idols performing there are ‘in my house.’ Idols would encourage kids to aspire to be great,” he said.

Not a free institution, but not just for the privileged, Dr Baroody says the center could charge for programs on a sliding scale and be a place where kids from all over could come, having proved they have the willingness to fight to make themselves better, and displaying a desire of personal excellence coming from within. “What I love the most,” he said, “is that for a kid with dreams and who has the drive to succeed, we could provide opportunities for a kid like that.”


Needed: Community Help

What the 12.14 Foundation is most in need of right now, said Dr Baroody, is help from the Newtown community. “We have so many resources here in Newtown and so many who want to do something that will have an impact for a long time,” he said. He encouraged community members to join committees that will lead to the development of 12.14 Foundation programs and the construction of the building. “Make connections, encourage donations,” he said. “This can be a representation of Newtown, but for the world. It will be a living, breathing remembrance to the lives lost 12/14, and affect future generations here in a positive way,” he said.

Dr Baroody does not see inaction as a means of healing. This is not the time to forget about 12/14, and hope that people will be fine as time goes by, he said.

It could be five years before the performing arts center becomes a reality, Dr Baroody said, and that is one reason funding is critical to present ongoing programs like Seussical. “People ask me, isn’t this a little ambitious? I hate that word, ambitious. This is a small way to honor those people we lost. It is a goal that can be achieved,” he said. Exemplifying the same values of hard work he hopes Newtown’s youth will learn, “We can do it,” said Dr Baroody.

To find out more about becoming involved with the 12.14 Foundation, or to donate, visit www.1214foundation.org.

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