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The morning of December 14th, 2012, my world was shattered, forever changed. An armed attacker broke into my daughter’s school. He took my daughter’s life and the lives of many other children and educators that day.

Like so many others in our little community, I was instantly devastated. The actions of one man had changed my life forever. I had no idea how to move forward or make sense of anything anymore. Yet, two days later, I would speak for the first time to a person who would again change my life forever, Michele Gay, Josephine’s mother.

Our daughters, sweet friends in this life, lovers of all things girly and fancy, had left this world for the next–together. Michele understood my pain and sorrow–and my desire to make meaning of it, to use this pain for a purpose. Together we made a choice. We chose to be inspired by our daughters. We would let them lead the way.

We focused on the world they shared together, the place where they made friends, shared laughter and learned together –school. This place was so special to our children and our families. It was the heart of our community. In honor
of our girls, we decided to help others protect this special place in their own communities. We made it our mission to ensure that every school is the safe, warm, welcoming place that every child deserves.

Together we created Safe and Sound Schools. With the help of an ever-growing, nationwide community of dedicated parents, educators, law enforcement, community members, and safety, emergency & mental health professionals, we have been able to create something to make our daughters proud.  Something that over the last four years has helped the communities close to us and all over the country. Together we have created a change that is working, inspiring others to work hard and work together for the safety of schools. We are honored to share the inspiration and spirit of our daughters to help other communities, and honored again and again to see this inspiration bring positive change to so many school communities.

On this fourth anniversary of our tragic loss, we choose again–to remember our daughters and their friends & beloved educators for the positive forces they were and continue to be. We marvel at the inspiring work of so many, work that makes our children and our schools safer.

There is much work to do, but we will never stop or give up.  We invite you to join us in remembering our daughters and carrying on their legacy. A legacy of helping others, connecting with people, working hard, and doing better–together.  

We thank you for your support of our families and our mission for Safe and Sound Schools.

#CelebrateEmilie #CelebrateJoey 

– Alissa Parker

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On December 14, 2012, I had two children in Newtown schools. My daughter, Charlotte, was one of the 20 children who died at Sandy Hook Elementary and my oldest son, Guy, was in 5th grade at Reed Intermediate School. Three weeks after the shooting, Guy returned to school on January 3rd, and was introduced to the therapy dogs that had already been visiting the school in the previous weeks. In the immediate days following the tragedy, dogs around the country were deployed to Sandy Hook and Newtown and were received openly and with gratitude by the community. The Newtown school district noticed the positive reaction to the dogs and deployed therapy dog teams to many of it’s schools. The intent was to comfort the students and the staff, but the dogs also added a layer of security that one may not anticipate or notice.

The security I speak of is not the type that protects one’s physical safety. I am speaking of the emotional security they can provide. For my son, returning to school was distressing. He felt exposed, vulnerable, and had exit plans for threatening scenarios. Throughout the next months he would spend a great deal of time with the therapy dogs. These dogs gave a great deal more than just love and comfort. The idea that the single job of a therapy dog is to make people “feel better” is a big misconception. No dog was going to make him ”feel better” after his sister just died, but what they did provide was an opportunity to allow my son to feel safe, understood, and loved. With them, he could be vulnerable and let his guard down. He did not have to pretend that he was OK. When in their presence, Guy felt safe enough to feel what he was feeling. The added bonus is that he also believed he was physically safer with a dog nearby and viewed them as protectors.

The impact therapy dogs had on my son was profound. Last September as we approached the third anniversary since Charlotte died at Sandy Hook, Guy became a published author at the age of 13. His book, The Dogs of Newtown, features many of therapy dogs that visited his school and gives tribute to their work. Therapy dogs did not fix Guy, nor cure him of grief for his sister. Nothing can fix something like this, but he has demonstrated how an individual can grow from profound adversity with the right support and love. I am incredibly proud of my son. His experience, along with Charlotte’s love for dogs, inspired my husband and I to create the program Charlotte’s Litter which advocates and supports therapy dogs in educational settings. It is our hope that schools will recognize that therapy dogs can help students feel emotionally safe and supported and aid to developing well rounded students.

– JoAnn Bacon

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JoAnn Bacon is mother to Guy and Charlotte Bacon. JoAnn and her husband, Joel, founded the Charlotte’s Litter Therapy Dog Program in memory of their daughter Charlotte. The Bacon family advocates for the use of therapy dogs in education. For more information about their work and books please visit: www.charlotteslitter.org and www.gooddogsgreatlisteners.com

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