Connecticut State Rep. Mary Welander was living near Newtown when 20 schoolchildren and six educators were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School. It was a moment that changed her life forever.
“I remember kissing my children goodbye the next day when putting them on the bus, wondering if they would come home,” she said. “It had a profound impact on the entire community, and me personally. I’ve approached everything I’ve done since then with a different perspective.”
Welander knew she had to do something, to make a difference. She decided to Make the Promise soon after. She wanted to make sure children had the access they need to mental health care.
“What I love about the program is there are so many options for people to get involved, to use their voice, and to lead by example, she said.
Welander became a Promise Leader Ambassador. She began bringing Sandy Hook Promise’s programs to schools, houses of worship, and community organizations across the state. She also became a member of the local school PTA so she could have a greater voice in her own community.
As an Ambassador, she helped to lobby Congress for bipartisan support and federal funding for the STOP School Violence Act. She also testified at the first federal “Listening Session on School Safety” on behalf of Sandy Hook Promise.
“That was a real turning point for me,” she said. “Because Sandy Hook Promise is a bipartisan organization, I saw how people could work together to protect our children. If there is one thing we all have in common, it’s wanting to keep our children safe.”
Welander ran for the Connecticut state legislature in 2020 and is serving her first term in the 114th District, which includes Derby, Orange, and Woodbridge. Welander serves on the Education Committee and was also appointed Vice Chairman of the Children’s Committee.
Championing Student Mental Health Services
Less than a month after taking office, Welander introduced several bills to improve mental health access and services for children.
She introduced a bill ensuring communities with school-based health care centers provide mental health services to their students. She also introduced legislation to increase funding and improve services for special education students.
In response to COVID-19, she introduced legislation requiring school boards to provide information on mental health services available to students.
Welander continues to serve locally, as president of the PTA, and the School Reopening Committee in Orange.
Make The Promise
“If anyone wants to get more involved, they could Make the Promise and start getting more active in their local communities,” Welander said. “There is only so much that just one person can do. But together, we can change the world.”