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Community participates to bring solace for Sandy Hook

Wilton residents are attempting to comfort their neighbors in Sandy Hook by collecting teddy bears for the children, and sending therapy dogs. Teams with the dogs trained by Dr. Margaret Reed of Canine Behavior Services in Wilton stand ready to help at Reed Intermediate School in Newtown, which served as the designated crisis center.

In an attempt to honor and remember the victims of the unfathomable tragedy in Newtown, a candlelight interfaith vigil will take place on Sunday, Dec. 23, at 6 p.m. at the gazebo in town center. Several Wilton clergy leaders will participate in the prayer vigil, which is scheduled for 30 to 35 minutes. Participants are asked to bring their own candles, flashlights or flameless candles, according to the town’s website.

Wilton’s memorial vigil will be one of several throughout the state on Sunday. All residents are welcome to attend.

To provide solace and comfort, Wiltonians have also offered to their Newtown neighbors teddy bears and man’s best friend — in the form of therapy dogs.

Diane Kuczo has organized “Hugs for Sandy Hook,” in which new teddy bears are being collected for the children.

Through Facebook and email, Ms. Kuczo said the word has spread and “we now have almost 200 teddy bears.” Along with people in Wilton, Ms. Kuczo said she is now receiving teddy bears from across the country, including Florida, Ohio, Massachusetts, and California, and “even a family from the UK. The outpouring of generosity has been amazing. I think people just want to do something, anything. Somehow show the people of Newtown that they are not alone in this, especially the kids. It’s so important for the kids to feel love and hope and support, and hopefully the bears can ease some pain. If it puts a smile on their face for just a moment, then it’s worth it.”

“We are working with people in Monroe and Newtown to get the bears to kids when they return to school,” Ms. Kuczo said.

The idea stemmed from the deep sense of sadness about the tragedy, she said. “We are all so saddened by what has happened,” she said. “I know how much my heart has broken, and I can’t even imagine how the Newtown community is dealing with this horrific tragedy. And the parents — I pray God gives them the strength to get through this. I don’t know how they can even get out of bed each day. I wish we could do more. We just didn’t know how else to help.”

Dr. Margaret Reed of Canine Training Behavior Services LLC in Wilton has also provided stuffed animals for the children of Newtown, and therapy dogs as well.

“What was so great about all of this was the willingness of people to help,” said Dr. Reed, a resident of Wilton. “I called Randy Levine, president of the New York Yankees, and his wife, Mindy; and Dennis Sprung, president and CEO of American Kennel Club; and Target Department Stores — and everyone was so generous. … We saw the stuffed animals with the children during President Obama’s speech Sunday night. It was wonderful.”

Dr. Reed said therapy teams trained by her company were taken to Reed Intermediate School in Newtown, which served as the designated crisis center over the past weekend. “The teams were certified by Therapy Dogs International evaluator Peg Lovelock, from Springfield, Mass.,” Dr. Reed said. “She made a special trip to organize and supervise the teams. These dogs were great and brought a smile to so many faces. They were so well received that individuals have requested them at various locations around town.”

“It was wonderful to see how the faces lit up when they interacted with the dogs,” Dr. Reed said. “It is true that kindness is powerful.”

Wilton’s clergy has been offering prayers for Newtown residents and also leading the community in this difficult time.

“No one is alone,” said the Rev. Suzanne E. Wagner, minister at the Wilton Congregational Church. “We are here to support one another and hold each other in our prayers. … The darkness will not overcome the light.”

When asked how to console children, Ms. Wagner said, “Let the children express their feelings in any way they need to, whether it is anger, prayers, or tears,” she said. “Tears can be prayers, too.”

The Rev. Michael Palmer, pastor of Our Lady of Fatima, said the tragedy in Newtown is a reminder of the “preciousness” of each day and the need to reach out to each other “with words of healing and take great care in how we treat each other … to put aside recrimination, pettiness and quick judgments.” It is also a good time to find comfort in one’s religious faith, Father Palmer said.

The Rev. Mary Grace Williams, rector of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, also offered the consolation of one’s faith. “As we face the days ahead with sadness and bewilderment over the horrific shootings in Newtown, we must remember that our God is weeping alongside us,” she said. “None of this was God’s plan for us or for the world God so lovingly created. As Christians, we truly need to celebrate Christmas this year and let the light of hope dispel the great darkness that has been surrounding us.”

Rabbi Leah Cohen highlighted the heroes of the tragedy, and the outpouring of support in its aftermath. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to those families who have suffered unimaginable loss and all who have been so deeply affected by this tragedy,” she said. “We join with the entire nation in offering our condolences to the Newtown community. The indomitable human spirit as exhibited by the first responders, the heroism of the unarmed, the outpouring of love and support from all remind us of the power of human goodness even in this darkest hour.”

The Rev. Shannon White of the Wilton Presbyterian Church also raised the question that the tragedy calls for a conversation about gun violence and how the mentally ill are treated. First, she said, “when something so senseless and tragic like this happens, some need to find blame. Some even blame God and ask why God would let this happen. My experience tells me that God does not cause such horrific events, such as what happened in Newtown. Rather, God is there weeping along with all of us, comforting us as we try and find our way together in this broken world. In addition, the generous acts of loving kindness in response to those suffering which we are witnessing and can be a part of, are ways God is making the presence of the Holy known in and among us.”

She added, “People from many faith traditions are also called to be justice-seekers and peacemakers. Those values require us to stand firm together across faith lines, to speak the truth in love and to seek justice for those who have no voice. This may take the form of having honest discussions about safety, gun violence, and adequate help for those with mental health issues.”

Selectman Ted Hoffstatter posed similar questions in a statement made at Monday’s Board of Selectmen’s meeting, and added a call for beefed-up security in Wilton.

“I first received news about the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown while teaching second graders at Miller-Driscoll Elementary here in Wilton,” he said. “I applaud our staff for remaining calm, yet vigilant. We kept the kids indoors, and went through the day as if nothing happened, to shield them from the horror. I can’t possibly describe the feelings running through me as I looked at their innocent little faces, knowing that it could have been us. As I hugged my children upon returning home and felt the joy in seeing them, I thought of the infinite sadness for the families robbed of that joy forever.”

To make sure this “never happens again,” Mr. Hoffstatter called for “a visible police presence at all of our schools, including the preschool at Comstock. This is a good start for now. Moving forward, we need to secure our building entrances. In the long run, I feel the most important step we can take is to reform our gun laws. While I believe in the Second Amendment, I don’t believe it should include assault weapons such as those used to murder innocent children and teachers last Friday.”

Colleen Fawcett, Wilton Youth Services coordinator, said that especially because Wilton is a neighboring community, “we must acknowledge the anxiety a tragedy of this magnitude can raise in us and in our children. Some will turn to their informal support networks to manage — friends, family, colleagues, neighbors — others may not, for a variety of reasons, and may find it helpful to seek support through a more formal network — mental health professionals, school professionals, places of worship. Some may want to lean on both informal and formal supports.”

Ms. Fawcett said, “Wilton Youth Services (WYS) would like to remind the community that we are available for counseling services. In the aftermath of this senseless tragedy, some may find the need for a secure environment in which to process this trauma, and the difficult emotions that may come. Others may want to learn about what is normal and what may be problematic as we absorb what happened in Newtown last Friday.”

“It may be comforting to know that there are ways to manage anxieties, grief and to heal,” she said.

Wilton Youth Services offers “short-term counseling for school-aged children, and for parents who may need guidance on assisting their children through a challenging period. Youth Services can also access a pro-bono network of private practice professionals who have offered to provide services.”

Also, she said, “helpful resources for parents may be found at our Wilton Schools district website, wilton.k12.ct.us, and through your child’s school counselor. Additional information may be found at the website of the National Association of School Psychol-ogists, nasponline.org.”

Information: Wilton Youth Services, 203-834-6241.

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