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Vickroy: Local acts of kindness aim to ease pain of Sandy Hook tragedy

Teacher ErMcLean writes examples board for students get ideas from when writing postcards Sandy Hook community Shepard High School Palos

Teacher Erin McLean writes examples on the board for students to get ideas from when writing postcards to the Sandy Hook community, at Shepard High School in Palos Heights, Illinois, Thursday, January 10, 2013. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: February 14, 2013 6:15AM



Can a million little things even begin to counteract the massive horror of Sandy Hook?

We have to hope.

Much of the reaction to the Dec. 14 tragedy that saw 26 people killed by a gunman at the elementary school in Newtown, Conn., has been loud and argumentative, and with good reason.

The day was among the saddest in our nation’s history and one that is certainly deserving of a movement to bring about change in how we view school safety, mental illness and accessibility of assault weapons.

But across the Southland, behind all that ruckus is a sea of people doing their best, in their own small way, to ease our collective suffering.

Children, parents, teachers and staff in Orland School District 135 gathered over winter break to make some 800 paper snowflakes, originally intended to be sent to Sandy Hook. But because the school has been inundated with such gestures, the snowflakes will be hung throughout Orland Park.

Tracy Pelini, president of the district’s Parents For Education group, said, “We want the people of Newtown to feel the love from Orland Park, to know they are not alone, that we’re with them.”

Students at Shepard High School in Palos Heights last week wrote notes of encouragement on postcards to be sent to the teachers and staff at the devastated elementary school.

And good Samaritans have embarked on a grass-roots campaign to prove to ourselves, if not the world, that we are better than our horrific news reports might lead us to believe.

The methods have been diverse, but the message is the same: We will not forget, and we will not let these deaths be in vain.

The tragedy may not have happened here, but when someone murders children the pain is felt universally.

26 random acts

Just before Christmas, a man and his daughter dining at Bakers Square restaurant in Orland Park told their waitress they would anonymously pay for another diner’s lunch.

Waitress Lisa Bulvan recalled that the do-gooders were from Orland Park. The man explained they were on a mission to commit 26 random acts of kindness in memory of each Sandy Hook victim. They’d previously paid for another shopper’s groceries at a local supermarket, the man told Bulvan.

“It was a very beautiful thing, the sweetest thing I ever encountered,” Bulvan said. The woman whose lunch he paid for told Bulvan the gesture made her day, that she’d recently lost her husband and the token of kindness warmed her heart.

Bulvan said the man told her the mission was his daughter’s idea, but it may have been part of a national movement started by ABC-TV broadcaster Ann Curry, who tweeted a similar campaign soon after reporting on the disaster. That drive now has more than 3,000 followers on Facebook.

Words to inspire

When 14-year-old Jordan Klip heard about the shooting, he was stunned.

“It was so horrible, I just couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t think of who could do something like that,” the Shepard High School freshman said.

After the initial horror subsided, he had what has become a universal thought: What could he do to ease the suffering or to ensure such a disaster didn’t happen again?

Special-education teacher Erin McLean answered his question last week. McLean had her students write notes of encouragement to the Sandy Hook teachers and staff on postcards.

“I wrote, ‘Stay strong, be positive and good luck in your new school,’ ” Klip said. “It makes me feel a lot better knowing I might be making those people feel better.”

Senior Samantha Korsak wrote the verse that is featured on the front of the postcard. The message, she said, is a simple one, to be a source of strength to those who remain, to the survivors.

“I was in eighth-period physics when I found out about what had happened that day,” she said. “I couldn’t believe it.”

Samantha, of Palos Heights, said she just wants the teachers there to know they are not alone in their grief.

“I want to tell them everyone’s behind them,” she said.

The best teachers inspire students, she said: “Teachers who inspire are just magical.”

She’d like to return the favor, especially to the Sandy Hook teachers who so valiantly protected their students.

Brian Zawodniak, also a freshman at Shepard, said for a long time he couldn’t get the notion out of his head of someone breaking into a school and shooting people.

“Shootings like that have happened too many times in this country,” he said. “It seems like there weren’t a lot of fights or shootings when I was little, but now everything’s going insane.”

Zawodniak, of Worth, is a member of the school’s Junior ROTC program. He plans to join the Air Force or the Army one day to help protect people. Meanwhile, he hopes the country passes stricter gun laws.

Is kindness enough?

The Rev. Rod Reinhart, pastor of St. Clement’s Episcopal Church, Harvey, and St. Joseph’s and St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church, Blue Island, said if doing 26 random acts of kindness in memory of the Sandy Hook victims catches on nationally, it will enable many Americans to translate their grief and shock into something positive.

“However, I believe that our random and personal acts of kindness must also be matched with dedicated and well-organized efforts to take guns out of the hands of criminals and mentally disturbed people,” Reinhart said.

What about you?

And so, the question, dear reader, is how will you respond to the Sandy Hook tragedy?

Will it slip from your mind because it’s too god-awful to hang on to? Will it become just another tragedy in an already too-long string of disasters? Or will you try, in some small way, to offset the darkness with a bit of brightness?

Will you join the discussion on safety, will you cling closer to loved ones, will you extend comfort to those who cross your path?

I don’t know if a million little things can offset the horror of Sandy Hook. But it sure is an idea worth exploring.



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