UNH Rallies for Newtown

The Charger Bulletin

By Liana Teixeira and Jessica Pena

In the midst of fall semester finals week at the University of New Haven, term paper writing and all-nighters in the library were put on hold Friday, Dec. 14, when students and Connecticut residents learned about the tragedy that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.

UNH Ice Hockey Team and the men’s Lacrosse Team headed to Newtown to play games and talk with the children from Sandy Hook Elementary.

Members of the UNH campus community came together following these unfortunate events. On the morning of Monday, Dec. 17, the UNH Ice Hockey Team and the men’s Lacrosse Team headed to Newtown to play games and talk with the children from Sandy Hook Elementary, as a way of helping them cope with the events that transpired over the weekend.

Lacrosse Team Captain Patrick Daniele helped organize the trip. “After my coach had contacted me, I took reign to rally up the troops from the lacrosse team, and the hockey boys (with the support of Ben Borelli) followed shortly after. It is an organized event in Newtown and should be a good time,” he said.

Dave Puglisi of the ice hockey team commented on his time spent in Newtown. “We really made an impact on those kids’ lives. Many of the kids, especially those who had seen the worst, really didn’t want to play at first but by the end of the day they didn’t want us to leave. I had never seen so many smiling faces. More importantly it was good for the parents to see that even after such a tragedy, their kids can still be kids. I love those little guys and I’d go back in a heartbeat,” he said.

Almost immediately, a request was sent by UNH graduate Rob Holub to all UNH students, asking for additional volunteers to spend time with the children at the Newtown Youth Academy. Dozens of UNH organizations and students rose to the occasion, and volunteered a few hours of their time in Newtown by playing sports and doing arts and crafts with the kids.

For many, this was a rewarding experience.

“Visiting the Newtown Youth Academy during winter break was quite possibly the best thing that I have done in the past year. We were a much needed distraction for the families in the Newtown and Sandy Hook Elementary School communities. The thankfulness they expressed to me and my fellow students was unheard of,” said USGA President Patrick Kelland. “Following our volunteer work, a group of us went to a local pizza restaurant. The owner recognized our University of New Haven garb and instantly welcomed us to his establishment. Every customer who entered was immediately told who we were and what we did that day. Many customers came to us and graciously thanked us for our support. I can confidently say that the students from UNH made a positive impact on a community in distress. I have never been more proud to be a student here and would like to thank everyone who helped out for their support.”

“It was an amazing experience; seeing the amount of support for these families and the town was astounding,” said junior Victoria Raimondi of Delta Phi Epsilon sorority. “Being able to put a smile on those kids faces and knowing that even if only for a moment you made them forget about their problems was life changing. It made me realize how powerful a smile and a good attitude is.”

USGA Chief of Senate, Arnold Lane Jr., said he was happy to see so many fellow Chargers engaging in activities with the kids at the Newtown Youth Academy. “I enjoyed seeing the amazing spirit in these kids, despite dealing with a national tragedy they still managed to smile and let go for a while. And I must say, we had an intense game of dodge ball that night!” Lane said.

Student Cora St. Marie of the Black Student Union added that volunteering in Newtown was something she would never forget. “It was so nice to see the amount of effort given to those affected by the tragedy. To see the smiles on the kids’ faces was one of the more rewarding incentives for me.”

In addition to UNH student volunteers heading to Newtown in the week following the shooting, the University held a vigil in honor of the Sandy Hook victims. The well-attended service was led by University Chaplain Martin O’Connor.

Unfortunately, there were also several extended UNH family members affected by the shooting in Newtown. UNH alumnus Dean Pinto ‘94 lost his son, Jack, a first-grade student at Sandy Hook elementary.

Victoria Leigh Soto was a first-grade teacher at Sandy Hook, and was the cousin of both Jen Pjatak, the director of alumni relations, and UNH student Alex Fagan.

Lastly, Anne Marie Murphy, a special education teacher at Sandy Hook, was the mother of recent graduates Colleen and Kelly Murphy ’12 at the University.

In an email sent out to the UNH community, President Steven Kaplan extended his condolences to the families and friends of those lost in Newtown, urging everyone to reflect upon the tragedy.

“As each of us reflects upon this horrendous loss of so many promising lives, both young and old, we must look deep into our hearts and search for ways that we can make a positive impact on this world. We owe this to those who died so needlessly,” President Kaplan said.

The UNH community continued to express a strong sense of unity after the Sandy Hook tragedy, and efforts like the students’ visit to Newtown only add to the outpour of support echoing throughout the state of Connecticut.