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Daniel Barden’s Legacy of Compassion and Connection

Photo of Daniel Barden

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Our guest blogger is Mark Barden, co-founder and CEO of Sandy Hook Promise Action Fund. He is the father of Daniel Barden, who was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy on December 14, 2012. 

As we arrive at the remembrance of the day my sweet little Daniel was violently taken from us, along with 19 of his classmates and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary, I look to the memories. These reflections form the unbreakable foundation of my work with Sandy Hook Promise.

It was a beautiful family weekend before the tragedy. We were heading home after finding and cutting down “the best Christmas tree ever” at a nearby farm. We stopped at a shopping plaza for treats. Jackie, James, Natalie, and Daniel headed to the market, while I headed in the opposite direction to the hardware store. Within seconds, Daniel was running across the parking lot toward me yelling, “I’m going with Daddy!”

As he fell into step beside me, taking my hand, I asked, “Don’t you want to go with them to pick out treats? I’m just going to the hardware store.” He looked up at me and said, “I came to comfort you. I don’t want you to be alone, Dad.”

That was Daniel. And it’s that compassion and reach-out-and-help spirit that is Daniel’s magnificent legacy and continuously fuels our Sandy Hook Promise mission.

The Evolution of Start With Hello

Daniel always amazed me with his empathy and compassion. He often went out of his way to speak to a special needs child at school. Daniel would say, “She can’t talk, but I know she can hear me.” He had a special gift for noticing people in need and reaching out to help them.

Lunchtime is often when students feel left out and alone. In 2015, Sandy Hook Promise partnered with Beyond Differences to promote its signature program, No One Eats Alone. Also, research showed us that one way to prevent shootings before they happen is to reduce social isolation. According to a Clemson University study, most school shooters felt excluded and lacked a sense of belonging. Experts call this extreme form of isolation social rejection.

Daniel lived his life in a way that when he saw someone sitting by themselves, he would join them. It’s why we founded the Start With Hello program and continue the work today.

Combatting Social Isolation With Empathy

Social isolation and loneliness can significantly impact a students’ mental and physical health, academic performance, and their relationships. Start With Hello teaches empathy, reduces bullying, and empowers students to create a culture of belonging in their school.  

Start With Hello is one of Sandy Hook Promise’s no-cost Know the Signs programs. We teach students the value of inclusivity in their school community through activities and curriculum for grades K-12. And we do it in three, easy steps:

  • See Someone Alone: Learn how to recognize the signs of social isolation and loneliness.
  • Reach Out and Help: What can you do to help others feel included?
  • Start With Hello: Break the ice, and strike up a conversation!

Schools and communities across the country have seen amazing results from Start With Hello, including a decrease in bullying and increase in connections among students. I know Daniel would proudly smile at our effort and success.

Make the Promise

We honor Daniel and all lives taken by gun violence by continuing to build cultures of connection and empathy. Our mission for safer and kinder schools relies on the compassion and commitment from people like you. Join the nearly 10 million people who have already made the promise to protect children. One simple, meaningful action makes an impact.