Strides for Sandy Hook
No matter where we were when the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut took place, our hearts broke for the victims and their families. So many of us were overcome with feelings of hopelessness and helplessness; hopelessness for the crushing sadness left in the wake of a mad gunman’s senseless rampage against innocent teachers and children, and helplessness because, no matter how much our hearts ached, there seemed to be little we could do for those who were suffering most.
Denise Thompson refused to let the miles between her North Valley home and the East Coast tragedy deter her. As a runner and owner of YogiRunner Wellness Coaching, Denise decided to organize a community event to show the Sandy Hook community that Phoenix cares.
On a rainy Sunday in late January, over 50 people of all ages gathered at Max Muscle on Carefree Highway to honor the victims of Sandy Hook Elementary. Together, they joined in an emotional candlelight vigil, reading off the names of each victim as the song “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” recorded by Sandy Hook tragedy survivors, resonated throughout the room with somber hope. The mission remained sober, but the mood lightened as the group headed down the road for a 5K run.
Children ran alongside their parents, and neighbors shared laughter and camaraderie as a small sea of green and white – the colors of Sandy Hook Elementary – made its way south along 27th Avenue and down North Valley Parkway before looping around for the return. Among the runners were the principal of Ridgeline Academy, as well as several teachers who wanted to show their support.
Also among the runners was Holly Jeppeson, who shared a painful bond with so many Sandy Hook Elementary parents. “We lost a son in a car accident,” she explained. “When Sandy Hook happened, it struck me to the core. I couldn’t even think about watching the news; I could relate on a different level. Then I realized I had to show these parents they had support. I know all too well what it’s like to feel this helpless.”
Holly’s 13-year-old daughter Allie got involved too, creating posters, ribbons and fliers to spread the word. “I loved getting involved!” she said. “It was such a great feeling to know that I was helping other kids.”
As parents of a six-year-old, Korine and Mike Leibman were also passionate about the cause. “It felt good to donate and do something positive for those who were in dire need of feeling love and support. It was fun to do with our family, and it felt good to see the community come together for the good of others,” Korine said.
Proceeds from runners’ $20 entry fees and from prize drawings held for restaurant gift cards, fitness coaching packages, massage, hair products and more, all donated by local businesses, will benefit survivors of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting. Also included in the area contribution is money collected by a local family, friends of a relative of six-year-old Sandy Hook Elementary shooting victim Caroline Previdi. They sold green rubber bracelets for $5 each in memory of the little girl, and her classmates and teachers who died.
Support from North Valley families, combined with the efforts of thousands of others across the nation and the world, is shining a light in the darkness for so many in Newtown, Connecticut. It will not be the utter and complete senselessness of the tragedy that we will hold on to. It will be the hope and humanity that, stranger to stranger, brought us all together, and encouraged us to reach out to one another in a time of need.
“The coming together of our community was a true testament of compassion, generosity and love. Thank you to all participants who took time out of their day and money out of their wallets to make a difference,” said Denise. “It was so special that even my nine-year old son was given the opportunity to feel like he was actually doing something to support those affected by this tragedy.
“Learning that we can do something to make a difference, even when we feel helpless, is one of the greatest lessons we can receive.”