Sandy Hook Promise began, its founders say, with a desire to help.
The group was born out of Newtown United, an advocacy group that began with packed meetings at C. H. Booth Library and expanded to have a Facebook presence of more than 18,000 fans. They launched a mission to encourage people everywhere to take the "Sandy Hook Promise." As of late January, the group says, more than 100,000 people have taken the Sandy Hook Promise.
The group compared their mission to those of advocacy organizations like Mothers Against Drunk Driving, saying they're in this for the long haul. But while their focus has included a heavy level of national advocacy, they're also active in the community. On Wednesday, Sandy Hook Promise will invite Newtown residents to the Edmond Town Hall to "find out more about what they can do to support common sense solutions that make our community and our country safer."
Patch spoke with three of Sandy Hook Promise's core members. This is the first in a two-part interview.
Patch: To date, the organization has not taken stances on some issues, including gun control. Is there a sense of urgency when it comes to forming a consensus on these matters?
Belden: Urgency is relative. Yes, the time is now for change. However, we've been careful not to be overly urgent on taking stances on things that would only divide sentiment, rather than garner support.
Makris: When you look a a model like MADD [Mothers Against Drunk Driving], the founder started that organization in a similar way. And her journey has been years upon years of, 'How do we get to a point where parents aren't out there driving drunk?' Her approach has been legislative on a state level, but also taken non-legislative approaches to changing attitudes and behaviors and actions. Will there be a sense of urgency around some issues? Sure. With what's going on in D.C., if that's something we believe in, we'll be there -- of course. That means we have to move quickly -- but this is very much a marathon and a journey.
Patch: What does that mean for those here in Newtown?
Makris: Even that's a journey. And when it comes to advocacy, we're there on a local or national basis. On the community side, we're here for our community. This is not a situation where in one year, Newtown is back to normal. This is years upon years of support people are going to need -- especially on the mental health front. We want to help our community as they move through this event.
Patch: What has Sandy Hook Promise been doing for the community?
Bittman: Obviously, the first thing we had to do was focus on the question: what could we do to help? What did these people need? So we banded together with other groups in town, went to the families and said, 'How could we help?' We offered a number of services -- snow plowing, etc -- and we were there to look for the gaps. And in that process we found a lot of issues. 'Can you help us with this Facebook page?' We did it all.
Another thing -- we didn't start out with any money. We just had our hearts and that was it. We did identify nearly a dozen families with immediate financial problems -- and the United Way and the Sandy Hook School Support Fund were not in a position to help them for months because of IRS regulations. So we had to find an alternate method. We identified several 'angel donors' who, if given a situation, would write a direct check to that family. Amazingly generous people who just looked for any way to help ... The IRS requires a certain amount of knowledge but the receiver understood it was meant to be completely anonymous.
In the process, we believe we have resolved quite a few potential financial problems [for families]. That's a stopgap until these funds start to free up. Sandy Hook is very economically diverse. Some people are fine. Some are on their own a bit more.
Makris: We've brought in families from past tragedies -- very beneficial. We've had some get-togethers where we have meetings, but most of the time the families are mingling and talking to one another, creating a safe environment. Mark and Gabby Giffords came up, and we helped facilitate that. We're just here to help in whatever way we can. We feel our role is to help folks heal.
On the healing side, there's an organization here if you need any type of assistance. Pick the phone up, we're here to help. If you'd like to be a part of what we're doing, pick the phone up. On the advocacy side it's the same thing. And if you feel it's time for change on a local and national basis, you can go on and take the Promise.