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On the morning of December 14th, 2012, we were simply parents — two stay-at-home moms who loved our children deeply. By that night, we were survivors of tragic loss. We sent our daughters, Emilie and Joey, to school that morning.  Only they did not come home. They had been killed in their first grade classroom at Sandy Hook Elementary. Our lives would never be the same.

Before our worlds were turned upside down, neither one of us had ever dreamt of starting a non-profit organization. But in the face of unthinkable tragedy, we were moved to action. In 2013, we co-founded Safe and Sound Schools to honor the lives and legacies of our daughters and to change the conversation around school safety. Today we are 7 years into that mission of relentlessly advocating for the safety and security of every child, every day. We never could have imagined in 2013 that our message would reach over 32,000 schools, impacting nearly 17 million students worldwide through our presentations, trainings, and resources. 

On December 14th, 2012 we felt as though our worlds had come to an end. Looking back, we now realize that tragic day was just a beginning. We are changing the conversation. We see a renewed commitment to protecting our children and youth across our nation. And although there is much work ahead, we are excited about what the future holds for the children and youth of our nation. We know Emilie and Joey are proud as they look down upon our work from above. 

As we look to the future, we have set aggressive goals to increase our support of school communities nationwide.  We will grow our network of partners and subject matter experts, broaden our programs and training, and expand our curriculum and materials to keep even more schools and more students safe and sound.

This Giving Tuesday, we extend our gratitude, because these two moms could not have reached any of these milestones without your continued support and generous contributions. We thank you for supporting us and honoring our daughters through the mission of Safe and Sound Schools.

Please consider donating to our mission today!!

Alissa Parker & Michele Gay, Co-Founders of Safe and Sound Schools 

 

During the second quarter, the Safe and Sound team traveled to school and professional communities nationally–and internationally to South Korea and Canada–directly reaching over 22,500 people! Nationally, the team visited  31 U.S. cities, spanning 16 states. For a full list of community visits, scroll down. 

Below are some highlights from the second quarter. If you missed our first quarter roundup, click here

Second Quarter Highlights:

  • In April, Safe and Sound Schools hosted a briefing and panel discussion in cooperation with the Congressional School Safety Caucus. The discussion focused on “The Importance of Mental Health in Comprehensive School Safety and Security Efforts.” 
  • In late April, Alissa Parker traveled to South Korea to share A Parent’s Perspective. 
  • In May, Jammin Hammer Jewelry kicked off an end-of-the-school-year fundraiser for Safe and Sound Schools for the second year in a row. Since then, Jammin Hammer has graciously extended the fundraiser through September. Support our mission and purchase your Safe and Sound Schools bracelets here.
  • The Building for God Community Foundation also celebrated its second year of partnership with Safe and Sound Schools, renewing a $20,000 grant to benefit our Maryland school safety initiatives. 
  • During the month of May, John Hopkins University honored Michele Gay with the Champion in Education Award.
  • Also in May, Michele Gay joined the Department of Justice COPS Office and BJA panel on school safety. National school safety leadership gathered to discuss school safety, emerging issues, and promising practices. Michele presented Rethinking School Safety and later joined a panel of colleagues and partners in school safety from the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), and the National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO).
  • In June, Michele Gay worked with the FBI filming a new segment for two school safety documentaries. And later in June, the FBI hosted Michele Gay in Clarkburg, West Virginia to speak on preventing tragedy.

New Programs, Trainings, Resources, and Research

Media Highlights

  • Wall Street Journal – Rebuild or Remain? Columbine Revisits a Question It Thought It Had Answered
  • Delmarva Now / USA Today – School Shooting Foiled in Maryland but ‘There’s Still a Lot of Anxiety’ 
  • KLTV ABC 7Tyler ISD gathers for safety workshops lead by mother of Sandy Hook victim

To stay up to date on the latest resources and happenings, make sure to follow us on social media and subscribe to our email list.


Collective Community Visits

April

  • April 1, PA – Michele Gay attends the Annual Conference in Philadephia to present A Parent’s Perspective
  • April 3, MA – Michele Gay presents for the 14th Annual New England School Safety Conference in Norwood  
  • April 4, FL – John McDonald presents Stop Justifying and No Higher Calling at the University of Central Florida in Orlando
  • April 8, NY – Alissa Parker shares A Parent’s Perspective for the Boards of Cooperative Educational Services in Rochester 
  • April 8, VA – Michele Gay and Lisa Hamp present for Roanoke County Public Schools
  • April 10, Canada – Frank DeAngelis presents at the Banff Conference
  • April 11, DC – Michele Gay represents Safe and Sound Schools and hosts a briefing and panel discussion in cooperation with the Congressional School Safety Caucus 
  • April 15, OH – Frank DeAngelis presents at the Cincinnati School Safety Conference 
  • April 17, IL – Michele Gay presents at the Illinois School Safety Conference in Bensenville 
  • April 18, TX – Alissa Parker presents for the Texas Police Chiefs in Galveston
  • April 24, South Korea – Alissa Parker travels internationally to present for the Seoul Foreign School 
  • April 27, OR – Alissa Parker shares A Parent’s Perspective for the Oregon PTA

May

  • May 1-2, VA – Michele Gay shares A Parent’s Perspective for Chesterfield Emergency Management
  • May 6, MA – Michele Gay presents for the Northeast Metropolitan Regional Vocational School District in Wakefield 
  • May 16, MD – Michele Gay presents for Anne Arundel County Public Schools
  • May 22, MD – John Hopkins University honors Michele Gay with Champion in Education Award
  • May 23  – Michele Gay participates in panel for the COPS Office 
  • May 28, TX – Michele Gay, Jin Kim, Paul Timm, and Stephen Brock present at Tyler ISD
  • May 30, MA – Safe and Sound Schools’ board members convene in Boston to discuss the mission, progress and strategy of the organization

June

  • June 6, IL – Michele Gay shares A Parent’s Perspective at the  LUDA 2019 Spring Symposium
  • June 6, WV – Frank DeAngelis shares Lessons from Columbine at Walton Elementary and Middle School 
  • June 7, NC – Frank DeAngelis presents Lessons from Columbine for The Employers Association in Charlotte 
  • June 8, TX – Frank presents Lessons from Columbine for the Summer Leadership Institute at Texas A&M University 
  • June 11, NY – Michele Gay presents A Parent’s Perspective for the Axis School Safety Symposium at SUNY Purchase.
  • June 17, WA – Alissa Parker shares A Parent’s Perspective for the Chelan County Sheriff’s Office in Wenatchee
  • June 18, SC – Scott Poland presents Bullying and Suicide: Keys to Prevention and Resiliencyfor the South Carolina Association of School Administrators in Myrtle Beach. 
  • June 18, TX – Michele Gay shares A Parent’s Perspective for the National Fire Protection Association in San Antonio. 
  • June 19, WI – Michele Gay presents for the School Resource Officers Conference in Green Bay.
  • June 20, AR – Scott Poland presents Recovering from a Crisis at School at the Christian School Adminstrator’s Conference in Searcy
  • June 24, WA – Scott Poland shares Bullying and Suicide: Keys to Prevention and Resiliency at Eastmont Junior High School for the North Central Education Service District in Wenatchee. 
  • June 25 – Michele Gay welcomes the FBI to her home to film a documentary interview. 
  • June 25, TX – Natalie Hammond keynotes for the Texas School Safety Center in San Marcos. 
  • June 27 – Michele Gay and Susan Parziale attend the NASRO Coalition meeting.
  • June 28, WV – Michele Gay shares  A Parent’s Perspective at the FBI Conference in Clarksburg.

Safe and Sound Schools is proud to participate in Teacher Appreciation Week. In honor of this week’s celebrations, we’re turning the spotlight to recognize our very own, Michele Gay. Many of you know Michele as one of the founders of Safe and Sound Schools – and of course, mother to Joey, Marie, and Sophie. What you may not know is that prior to founding Safe and Sound Schools, Michele taught in the Maryland and Virginia Public Schools, where she served as both an elementary classroom teacher, a mentor teacher and a peer coach.

Q: What inspired you to get into teaching?

A:  It was my family. I grew up in a family of educators.  My father was a school counselor. My mother was a teacher and principal. As a kid, I marveled at how hard my parents worked. Too hard, I thought!  But the impact they had on so many children and families was undeniable. It was inspiring. It tugged at my heart until I found myself working with children as a high school student and ultimately deciding to pursue a teaching career myself. The real clincher was the students themselves. Once I saw what they had to teach me, how exciting it was to watch a new skill take hold or a new idea light within their eyes, I was done. Teaching was it for me!

Q: What were some of the most rewarding aspects of being a teacher?

A:  The time I got to spend with so many incredible young people was undoubtedly the most rewarding part of the job. Every day was an adventure. Every child was uniquely gifted and challenged. It was incredible to be a small part of the journey of so many amazing people.

Q: What is one your fondest memories as a teacher?

A:  My fondest memories are of laughing with my students. The science experiments gone awry, the unexpected answers, the serious moments that turned into unstoppable giggle-fests, the unscripted moments of kids being themselves–they were the best.

Those moments where a hard-earned victory was achieved top the list, too.  Like when the furrowed brow of concentration on a child’s face gave way to the beaming excitement of discovery or long-awaited accomplishment. Nothing’s better than watching someone learn that they CAN do something they thought impossible.

Q: What was your biggest challenge as a teacher?

A:  Time. Without a doubt. There was just never enough of it to meet all of the goals and objectives on the list for each day, plus the grading, and the testing, and the meetings, phone calls and continuing education. Like lots of teachers, I’d trim time off of my lunch, stay late after school, and still have to bring work home. Don’t get me wrong–I signed up for it. All of it! But I always wished there was more time for relationship building, teaching, and listening and learning from one another in every school day.

Q: Teachers can change lives. They play pivotal roles in shaping minds and inspiring their students. Can you tell us about a teacher that made a lasting impact in your life?

A:  There were quite a few. “Miss Terry,” my third-grade teacher always comes to mind first.  After a really rough second grade, I landed in her class and was greeted with the immediate comfort of a safe place.  She created an environment where it was okay to make mistakes, ask for help, laugh out loud, and most importantly, to admit when you were wrong. She modeled all of those things for us every day. She gave us all that we needed to learn–and then she got out of the way. I continue to go back to those lessons throughout my life as a teacher, a mom, a wife, and an advocate.  

Q: You’ve transitioned from educating children to educating an older crowd as part of your work for Safe and Sound Schools. What aspects from you career as a teacher do you use in your work today?

A:  See answer above! Seriously, I am lucky to work with the most dedicated people you can imagine.  Teachers, school staff, police, fire, emergency managers and responders, school-based mental health professionals, architects, community leaders, parents, and students–and on and on–that want school to be the safe place it has to be to serve our students and the future of our country.  My work today is really just another kind of teaching. The students are much bigger and the conversations are a bit more complicated, but we are working together to solve for safety. My job is simply to guide the process and see what kind of amazing things they come up with.

I had the privilege recently of returning to work with a group to whom I delivered a reunification workshop for a few years ago. I still cannot get over how much incredible work they have done since our workshop together. I just provided the training, tools and a little inspiration. Everything else was all them.  And judging by my recent visit, they are only just getting started. If I hadn’t chosen teaching all those years ago, I’m not sure I would have had the confidence to step into this new role and move forward from tragedy in such a positive way.

The decision to become a teacher has been a blessing many times over in my life. Today, it gives me great appreciation for the hard work and dedication of the educators I work with, and deep gratitude for the teachers who have touched and shaped my own children’s lives.  


Teacher Appreciation Week is observed from May 5-11 this year. Please take some time to recognize the teachers in your community – click here for ideas and facts.

On behalf of everyone at Safe and Sound Schools, we’d like to thank all teachers for their outstanding contributions and efforts to educate, inspire, and keep our kids safe and sound.

 

December 14, 2018

I still remember Emilie pacing back and forth through the endless, pink Barbie packaging that filled the aisle at Target. She couldn’t quite decide what to buy. She was picking out a gift for her sweet classmate, Josephine (Joey for short), for her seventh birthday party. Joey was autistic and apraxic, which meant she was non-verbal and limited in her ability to communicate. She was also loving, affectionate, and girly, very girly. Just like Emilie.

She was the perfect friend for Emilie, who loved having a captive audience to listen to her endless ideas and stories. Emilie and Joey had become dear friends during their time together in school. Emilie loved to tell me all the things she was learning about Joey and their every little interaction. Like when Joey would excitedly touch the puffy skirts Emilie would wear to school and the joy in her face when she would see Emilie’s Barbie backpack each morning. As Emilie continued pacing up and down the aisle, determined to find the perfect gift for Joey, she finally found it. A ballerina Barbie…tutu and all.

I will always remember the love Emilie and Joey had for not only each other, but for all their classmates, teachers, and friends. They loved their school! After their tragic deaths on December 14, 2012 at Sandy Hook School, Michele and I chose to honor their lives. We built a legacy unique to our girls, a legacy devoted to protecting the sacred environment all children need to learn and grow safely – and joyfully! A legacy devoted to safe and sound schools. Every speech we give, every workshop we deliver, every program we create has our girls’ fingerprints all over it.

Emilie and Joey live on in our work, inspiring thousands of parents, students, teachers, administrators, and mental health and safety professions in their efforts to make schools a safe place for all. This year, as we mark the 6th anniversary of the tragedy that took their lives, help us celebrate their light, love, joy, and hope–and their legacy of safe and sound schools.

Joey and Emilie, we love you forever.


Alissa Parker is mother of Emilie Parker, killed in the tragedy at Sandy Hook School on December 14, 2012.  Alissa co-founded Safe and Sound Schools with Michele Gay, mother of Josephine Gay. Alissa is author of An Unseen Angel and a nationally sought after speaker on school safety, hope and healing.

Safe and Sound Schools, in partnership with Region 4 Education Service Center, is proud to announce the inaugural National Summit on School Safety.

Join us March 28-30, 2019, in Houston, Texas, for an intensive and interactive, two-day conference focused on comprehensive school safety. The National Summit on School Safety is ideal for educators, administrators, safety and security professionals, mental and behavioral health practitioners, solution providers, community members, and leaders.

The National Summit on School Safety is designed to provide a hands-on learning experience and will feature national and regional experts such as:

  • CJ Huff, Former Superintendent of Joplin Schools and Special Advisor for Education and Community Leadership to Safe and Sound Schools
  • John Michael Keyes, Founder and Executive Director of I Love U Guys Foundation
  • Frank DeAngelis, Former Columbine Principal and Special Advisor for Education Leadership to Safe and Sound Schools
  • Michele Gay, Co-founder and Executive Director of Safe and Sound Schools
  • Alissa Parker, Co-founder and Director of Safe and Sound Schools

With deep-dive breakout sessions, workshops, leadership round tables, inspirational keynotes, and dedicated networking, attendees will add to their school safety toolbox to better meet their community’s school safety needs. Conference sessions will cover the six key components of our Framework for Comprehensive School Safety Planning and Development:

  • Physical Environment
  • Operations and Emergency Management
  • Mental and Behavioral Health
  • Health and Wellness
  • Culture, Climate, and Community
  • School Law, Policy and Finance

Stay tuned for updates on more speakers, sponsors, and the summit agenda. To keep up with all things Safe and Sound, connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram. And to keep up with Region 4 Education Service Center, like them on Facebook and follow them Twitter.

Sponsorship

Sponsorship opportunities are available at a variety of levels. To learn more about sponsorship opportunities, contact Rania Mankarious at raniamankarious@me.com.

Dates

  • Thursday, March 28, 2019 – 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm: Meet & Greet
  • Friday, March 29, 2019 – 7:30 am – 4:30 pm: Keynote Speakers & Breakout Session
  • Saturday, March 30, 2019 – 7:30 am – 2:30 pm: Leadership Forum & Closing

Location

Join us at the Region 4 Education Service Center: 7145 W Tidwell Rd, Houston, TX 77092

Registration

Early bird tickets are available through December 31, 2018. Register with our partner, Region 4 Education Service Center.


See you there!

With summer already in full swing, we are already looking forward to the second half of this year. We thought you’d appreciate a look back on our progress through April, May, and June.

  • Expert presentations– we traveled to 12 states, 17 cities, and even went to Sweden, reaching nearly 10,000 educators, emergency responders, mental health professionals, students, school staff and community members on topics ranging from physical safety to mental health and resilience. Read on below for a detailed list of our presentations and community visits.
  • Tools and Resources – we launched our first-ever State of School Safety Report to help communities better understand how parents, students, and educators view school safety threats and opportunities. We also grew our crisis response network to help schools affected by tragedies this year. We are working on several exciting projects to be announced later this year. We are deeply grateful for the generous donations of many individuals, corporate partners, and organizations that make this work possible.
  • Community SupportWe also appreciate the donations and fundraising efforts from following groups and organizations: Indian Lake Central High School, Ransom Everglades School, Oakdale High School Student Government Association, Jammin Hammer Jewelry, Building for God Foundation, and Alice’s Tea Cup.
  • Organizational Readiness – In May, Michele Gay and Alissa Parker joined the Safe and Sound’s Board of Directors for the annual Board Retreat in Boston, MA. Thank you to all of our board and team members for making the trip!  

We’ve got a lot ahead of us, from conferences to new partnerships, programs, and resources, and we are excited to share it all with you in the coming months! You can follow us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram to stay up to date with all things Safe and Sound. Thank you for your support.

Now, here’s a report on all our visits during Q2, showing you the breadth, depth, and reach of our organization’s work:

  • Alissa Parker – PublicSchoolWORKS webinar about practical ways school community members can improve school safety.
  • Dr. Todd Savage – School-Based Safety and Crisis Prevention, Preparedness, and Intervention Considerations for the Art and Science Academy in Minnesota
  • Michele Gay  – Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals
  • Michele Gay – Chinle Unified School District, on tools and ideas for safer schools and community engagement
  • Paul Tim – PublicSchoolWORKS
  • Michele Gay – ALEC task force on school safety in Grand Rapids, Michigan
  • Michele Gay – Maryland Task Force on School Safety for Students with Special Needs at Ivymount School in Montgomery County, Maryland
  • Michele Gay – Marriotts Ridge High School to share the Sound Youth Council with students and parents
  • Michele Gay – Keynote at the DHI Connextions Conference in Baltimore
  • Michele Gay – school safety webinar, sponsored by Raptor Technologies.
  • Alissa Parker – attended the Dougy Center Gala Event in Portland to honor the Parker family and celebrate Emilie’s birthday; funds from the gala go toward supporting grieving families
  • Alissa Parker – North Penn School District in Landsale, PA
  • Dr. Melissa Reeves – Indiana School Safety Academy
  • Michele Gay – Secure Schools Alliance meeting in Washington, D.C., with national safety and industry leaders to develop a unified national coalition of school safety leadership
  • Frank DeAngelis – Kaufman County Office of Emergency Management on Leadership Lessons from Columbine and Beyond
  • Michele Gay – PrepTalk for FEMA alongside Kristina Anderson of the Koshka Foundation, Sarah Thompson of Save the Children and Lori Peek of the Natural Hazards Center.  You can check out Michele’s talk at https://www.fema.gov/preptalks/gay  
  • Michele Gay – Axis Communications Advisory Council in Sweden, with Safe and Sound speaker and expert Paul Timm, and national school safety expert Kevin Wren, to present to area school and safety leadership in Lund.  What an exciting opportunity to share Safe and Sound’s message and trainings internationally!
  • Frank DeAngelis – Large Unit District Association of Illinois
  • Michele Gay – Pennsylvania community leaders, educators, safety professionals, and community members
  • Michele Gay – Keansburg Schools in New Jersey
  • Michele Gay – South Carolina Association of Superintendents
  • Michele Gay – Baltimore County School safety leadership’s annual school safety conference
  • Alissa Parker – Texas Association of School Administrators Summer Conference
  • Alissa Parker – Axis/Dallas Independent School District
  • Michele Gay – National Association of School Resource Officers in Reno, NV, about Safe and Sound’s “Kids First” program on developmentally appropriate safety education
  • Jin Kin – International Center for Leadership in Education in Orlando.

Thank you for reading, and if you have any questions about our work, please reach out through info@safeandsoundschools.org.

 

12.11.17

Joey,

Happy 12th birthday, my little love.  I celebrate you today—and every day–here on Earth, knowing that you are alive in heaven.

I imagine you playing with so many of your friends and favorite teachers, eating cupcakes and pizza, and living a life more full than I can imagine.

I miss your kisses and snuggles, your hysterical belly laughter, and how you pestered your big sisters–and your daddy–without mercy.

I miss you. So much.

Life is not easy without you here…but as I promised you once, I won’t give up.

I will love openly, share generously, speak boldly, and walk bravely—toward a better, safer, and more compassionate world.

Do not worry. I am not alone. Many good people walk with me.

I keep all of your gifts close to my heart. I use them to heal our family and in service to others. Your gifts continue to prosper, making schools safer, providing for families with autism, and reminding others of God’s presence in their lives.

You continue to make your mark on this world—and the next. I am sure.

I still hear your sweet voice and feel your warm presence. I know that you are with me in all that I do.

My love for you is like yours for me. Always.

Love,
“Mama”

This post, written by Michele Gay and her family, originally appeared in The Newtown Bee on November 17, 2017. 

December 14, 2017, will mark five years without loved ones for families of children and educators killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The Newtown Bee will share remembrances of victims of 12/14 throughout the fall, written by family members or with the assistance of staff at The Newtown Bee. Not all families care to participate, and we respect that. This week, the family of Josephine Gay shares these words.

Joey GayDecember 2017 brings the fifth anniversary of losing our daughter and sister Josephine Grace at Sandy Hook School. The youngest of three daughters and the center of our family’s life, she was born on December 11, 2005, in Columbia, Md.

Just a few months after Josephine’s birth, our family would move from the bustling Baltimore-Washington suburbs to the small Northeastern town of Newtown. After months of house hunting, phone calls, and research, we settled on the quiet little village of Sandy Hook.

Josephine lived most of her life of 7 years and 3 days as a Newtown resident, among some of the finest friends, neighbors, and community members that we could have hoped for. Those closest to our family knew her best as “Joey.”

She was affectionate and friendly, determined and hardworking, mischievous and fun-loving. She was the “girly-est” of our girls. Joey adored her older sisters and worked hard to keep up with and direct them whenever and however possible.

As she grew, we watched her closely, noting great differences between her development and that of her older sisters. Close to her second birthday, she was diagnosed with autism, and later with global apraxia and apraxia of speech. She worked very hard to learn to move her body, communicate, and meet the milestones that had come so easily to her older sisters.

Her indomitable spirit, determination, and desire to connect with others would ensure that her family and friends understood her and looked out for her, going to great lengths to share in and celebrate her accomplishments. Her classmates eagerly learned sign language and encouraged and included her whenever they could. She was blessed with true friendships and loved by many of her peers, neighbors, and teachers.

Yet the gap between her growth and that of her peers would increase as they progressed through preschool and kindergarten. The resources of our small town school system could not fully support her learning and development, so she would spend hours after school and on weekends at occupational, physical, speech, and behavioral therapy, her sisters tagging along and participating wherever they could.

As she approached first grade, our family had to make a difficult decision: continue this challenging routine or search for a community with the resources to more fully support Josephine. We labored over the decision, knowing that life in Newtown had provided a safe, supportive, and compassionate community for Joey and our family. We wondered if we would find another place on earth like this.

We found our new home in nearby Sudbury, Mass., and we began to prepare for our move in January 2013. We looked forward to this new chapter and the new opportunities that awaited our family, and took comfort in the fact that we would never be far from our Newtown friends and neighbors.

Despite our hopes and dreams, plans and preparations, Josephine would never move with us. She was killed in her classroom along with many of her beloved friends and teachers at Sandy Hook School on the morning of December 14, 2012. The loss of Josephine is still unimaginable and as difficult to understand as it is to bear.

Yet our love for her never ends. Our faith that she lives in heaven sustains us. Our friends and family are ever mindful and prayerful for us. Somehow we are moving forward with her.

Carrying on with our move only one month after her death was an overwhelming undertaking. It was difficult to imagine how we would survive without the love and support we felt in our Newtown community. Nevertheless, we made the move with the support of many Newtown friends and neighbors and were received with open arms in Sudbury.

Only a few hours away from our Newtown friends and neighbors and the families of loss that we clung to, we made frequent trips “home” for support, meetings, and difficult decisions. We chose when to come and go and which events we had the energy to attend and support.

Living outside of Newtown, our family was free from many of the difficult pressures and challenges now facing the community. We resolved to build and protect our daughter’s legacy ourselves and in our own time.

We chose to create a legacy for Joey that focused on her extraordinary life, not her tragic death. As her family, we are honored to be the custodians of her voice and her legacy. Although it has been both eye-opening and heartbreaking to witness the efforts of others to use her memory and our tragic loss for their own politics, purposes, and pursuits; many friends, neighbors, and perfect strangers have rallied around and alongside us with unconditional and unwavering support, helping us build and protect a legacy fit for Josephine.

Joey loved school, her friends, and teachers. She lived a wonderful life both gifted and challenged by autism. She thrived in our family of faith. These are the pillars of her legacy, the legacy that we have built with the support of so many generous hearts and hands both in Newtown and nationwide.

We started building Joey’s legacy first with the Doug Flutie, Jr Foundation for Autism. As donations from friends, family, and strangers poured in following her death, we opened Joey’s Fund for families with autism. Joey’s Fund has granted more than $55,000 each year since the tragedy to provide direct support to families with autism. We see the generous spirit and smile of our daughter alive and well in the faces of these exceptional children.

In the spring of 2013, we founded Safe and Sound Schools with the Parker family [whose daughter, Emilie, also was killed during the tragedy] to help school communities build and ensure the safest possible learning environment for children and teachers. Traveling the country advocating, speaking, and teaching with the guidance of national school safety experts, we’ve watched this grassroots effort blossom and grow, helping thousands of school communities striving for safety.

December 14th is always a difficult day for us. This year, like every year since 2012, we will attend early Mass, spend the day together sharing memories, and thanking God for His steady presence in our lives.

We will celebrate Joey’s 12th birthday this year on December 11th, wearing purple in her honor, tying purple balloons on the mailbox (a tradition started by our Newtown friends and neighbors), and accepting donations in her memory for Joey’s Fund for families with autism. To learn more or support Joey’s Fund please visit: http://bit.ly/2AlbSUF.

We continue our work with Safe and Sound Schools, sharing our message of hope, education, and empowerment with school communities across the country. To learn more about Safe and Sound Schools or to support or join our national effort, please visit safeandsoundschools.org.

We are grateful for the many thoughts, prayers, and acts of humble service that have lifted us up and helped us carry on in memory of our precious daughter and sister, Joey. We eagerly wait for the day that we can see and hold her, not only in our hearts and minds, in our arms once again.

With love and gratitude,
Bob, Michele, Sophie and Marie Gay ?

Now that our first quarter has come and gone, we’re excited to provide you with an update of our travels and ongoing projects from January through March.

Co-founder Alissa Parker kicked off January travels with Safe and Sound board member Bob Martin and Safe and Sound advisor Tau Braun, at the Violence Prevention, Preparedness, and Response Symposium in Corpus Christi, Texas. Shortly after, Safe and Sound Schools, in partnership with the Maryland Center for School Safety, launched the Maryland School Safety Initiative. At this three-day event, co-founder Michele Gay held school safety trainings alongside Safe and Sound advisor Bill Modzeleski, Connecticut law enforcement expert Dan Jewiss, and NASP lead psychologist Ben Fernandez. Meanwhile, in the online social sphere, Safe and Sound schools discussed The Role of Technology In Today’s School Safety Landscape and ended the month with a blog inspired Emilie Parker and her love of art.

With February in full swing, Michele traveled to Illinois to meet with leaders from Mutual Aid Box Alarm System (MABAS). Following this trip, Michele headed east to Needham, Massachusetts to present on Developmentally Appropriate Safety Education before the Early Childhood Council. During the second half of February, Michele accepted a leadership award at the NASP President’s Awards and later reunited with Safe and Sound speaker Dr. Melissa Louvar Reeves to present at the 2017 NASP Conference. Shortly after, on February 25, Michele and her husband Bob attended the Champion of Life Gala in Baltimore, Maryland, hosted by the BFG Community Foundation (Safe and Sound Schools is a former recipient of the the Champion of Life Award). February travels concluded with a trip to New Jersey, where Michele presented to law enforcement leaders at the Law Enforcement Against Drugs Conference.

Other key highlights from February include the various #LoveSafety themed blog posts that captured the spirit of love, safety, and kindness. Scarlett Lewis, Safe and Sound speaker and founder of Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement, shared a blog about what it means to #ChooseLove. Mills Pond Elementary Library Media Specialist, Louise Prescott, shared a blog on kindness literature. Safe and Sound Schools closed the month with a blog dedicated to sponsors.

March may have been the busiest month this quarter. March travels began with a trip to Howell, Michigan where Michele and Dr. Melissa Reeves held a reunification workshop sponsored by Safe and Sound sponsor Raptor Technologies. On March 10, Michele spent time in her home state of Maryland to present to a room full of Howard County school resource officers and administrators. A couple days later, on March 14, Safe and Sound sponsor Status Solutions hosted a school safety webinar featuring Michele Gay. Later that evening, in Westerville, Ohio, Status Solutions hosted a community event, School Safety Solutions, where Michele presented to an audience full of community members, educators, administrators, law enforcement and safety professionals. The next day, in Colorado, Safe and Sound speaker Frank DeAngelis presented on resiliency and recovery at Adams State University. Soon after, Michele was back in Massachusetts for a “School Threat Assessment and Response System” Rollout presentation hosted by the North Eastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council (NEMLEC). On March 22, Frank DeAngelis and Kristina Anderson, founder of the Koshka Foundation, traveled to New York to present to a room full of students and faculty at SUNY Oswego. Next, Michele headed to Pennsylvania to present to school safety leaders in the Upper Saint Clair School District. The event was sponsored by Safe and Sound sponsor NaviGate Prepared. Meanwhile, Safe and Sound speaker Dr. Scott Poland also visited Pennsylvania to present at the Safe Schools Speaker Series. March travels concluded with Michele traveling back to Pennsylvania to attend the Safe Schools Symposium in Chester County.

While Safe and Sound leaders traveled to communities throughout the country in March, the communications team announced a new program for high school students, the Safe and Sound Youth Council. This program will allow Safe and Sound Schools to directly connect with high school students around the country, helping students become school safety leaders in their respective communities.

March online efforts continued with a blog celebrating Social Work Month, a blog shared in response to Jewish Community Center bomb threats, and a blog discussing school visitor management.

Safe and Sound Schools looks forward to visiting more communities in the months to come. For day-to-day updates on all things Safe and Sound, follow us on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram.

Last week took me out on the road again but in the most familiar territory, my home state of Maryland.

Safe and Sound Schools joined the Maryland Center for School Safety on a cross-the- state tour of school safety training for Maryland educators, leaders, law enforcement, fire, and mental health professionals.

Our trip and our training was a gift—literally. Last February Safe and Sound Schools was awarded a grant from Maryland based non-profit, BFG Community Foundation to focus our efforts and our attention on the Maryland schools.

And that’s just what we did. Together with the Maryland Center, we launched our first Maryland School Safety Initiative. We’ve been working jointly for a year now, bringing national and local leadership and Safe and Sound resources to Maryland schools.

This work culminated in a teaching and training tour, Beyond Tragedy: Preparing the Maryland Schools for a Safer Tomorrow. We brought together a team of national and local educators and trainers, travelling from Cambridge to Fredrick, to Annapolis, connecting us with many of Maryland’s finest and most dedicated leaders and school safety professionals.

Bill Modzeleski, Safe and Sound Advisor and Former Associate Assistant Deputy Secretary for the Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools, joined us to moderate the event. Bill’s national perspective and years of experience in the field set the tone for three successful days.

Dan Jewiss, CT law enforcement expert, offered his professional insights on improved emergency response and caring for victims, co-workers, and self in the aftermath of tragedy.

I followed with my personal perspective as a former teacher and Sandy Hook parent, touching on lessons learned in prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery. But I can’t help but feel that it’s the indomitable spirit of my daughter Joey that was most meaningful to bring to each group.

Ben Fernandez, lead school psychologist, crisis team leader, and trainer for the National Association of School Psychologists shared professional insights and experiences, as well as familiarity with many of the local school safety and mental health challenges our Maryland schools face.

Ed Clarke and Dino Pignataro of the Maryland Center for School Safety joined us in discussion throughout the day and provided three fantastic training sites for the event. Their leadership and relationships with school safety practitioners and leaders across Maryland made this joint venture possible.

Perhaps the most exciting thing about an event like this for all of us was the opportunity to engage with the local experts and communities we are so honored to serve. Safe and Sound brings national and local experts and community members together. It’s our mission and our passion. Still, to watch it happen in communities across the country and in Maryland is a great honor and a true inspiration.

Thank you to the BFG Community Foundation, The Maryland Center for School Safety, and the many professionals that joined us across Maryland.

It’s amazing what we can do when we come together.


Michele Gay, Co-founder & Executive Director of Safe and Sound Schools