'A Celebration of Kindness' examines just a few of the countless Newtowners who have embraced kindness as a philosophy this year. Scroll down and click to read more about acts of kindness in our community, or skip ahead to:
26 Days, Countless Acts of Kindness
The call went out on Nov. 10.
That’s when Southbury babysitter and Sandy Hook native Ashley Bochino Petersen created an event on Facebook called 26 Days of Kindness. Every day, for 26 days, she asked participants to dedicate an act of kindness to one of the victims of 12/14, and to share their experience on the page.
"I just thought it would be nice that each victim would have their own day to be honored," said Ashley on Friday, the second-to-last day of the campaign -- a day devoted to student Caroline Previdi.
"Today is day 25 of 26 Days of Kindness and today we honor Caroline Previdi. Nicknamed ‘Boo,’ due to her resemblance of the character in ‘Monsters, Inc.,’ Caroline loved gymnastics, drawing and dancing. What was your act of kindness today?"
Each morning, she kicked off her calls with a similar message. And the responses that rolled in surpassed anything she could have hoped for.
2,900 people from Newtown and across the world signed up to take part. Every day, dozens posted their stories, ranging from helping an elderly neighbor shovel snow to buying coffee and meals for strangers at the grocery store. Some donated to the less fortunate. Some spent time reading to kids.
All this from an invite Ashley shared with her friends. She didn’t seek publicity or contact the media. She didn’t try to make her posts "go viral."
"I didn’t think anyone would participate!" she says. "It just seems like everyone invited their friends and those people invited their friends … and it went from there!"
Ashley’s act of kindness? She’s had many, but she remembers going to Dunkin’ Donuts / Big Y in Newtown to hand out ribbons on Sunday, Nov. 23, the halfway point of the campaign.
"People were coming up to me and thanking me," she said. "They say it opens their eyes more to be aware of others in need, and to be nicer on a daily basis overall."
She’ll be doing one extra day of kindness on Dec. 15 to honor everyone else — survivors, teachers, first responders, friends and family. And she won’t be stopping after that, either. She plans another 26 days of kindness next year, and the year after that.
"People have said 26 days isn’t enough -- but I’m not saying only do 26!" she says. "Of course, everyone should be nice every day. It’s been a long 26 days, but it’s been nice to read everyone’s acts of kindness, and I hope everyone continues."
And maybe, for some, that’s okay.
"I've decided not to stop after December 14," one comment read. "It feels too good to stop."
The event may be ending, but Ashley will continue providing a space to share stories through the new 26 Days of Kindness Facebook Page, which already has more than 800 followers.Of course, Ashley isn’t alone. The town of Newtown has embraced a message of kindness handed down from person to person, perhaps never more powerfully than in the words of Principal Dawn Hochsprung: "Be nice to each other. It’s all that really matters."