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Sandy Hook Promise expands leadership with new advisors

Preeminent school safety and gun violence prevention organization enlists diverse leaders to expand reach and impact

NEWTOWN, Conn. — Today, Sandy Hook Promise (SHP) announced appointments to its Board of Directors, Leadership Council, and Young Leaders Council, each offering broader perspectives on the work to end school shootings and violence.

SHP’s Board of Directors oversees the strategic direction, oversight, and accountability of the Foundation (501c3) and Action Fund (501c4). The newest leaders joining this esteemed governance group are:

Dr. Colleen Barry, a nationally recognized research scholar, educator, and leader in health policy and policy communication, also joins the Board of Directors. She is the Inaugural Dean of the Cornell Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy. Since 2013, Dr. Barry has led the bi-annual Johns Hopkins National Gun Policy Tracking Survey, a major public opinion survey research project to inform strategies for reducing gun violence. This initiative began with a widely cited research study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy on strategies to reduce gun violence with wide public support, including among gun owners. Since then, Barry and her research team have published over 20 peer-reviewed studies in leading medicine and public health journals to better understand public attitudes about gun violence prevention and communicated these findings to policymakers and public.

Dr. Jillian Peterson, a well-respected leader in the field of violence prevention, joins the Board of Directors. She serves as an associate professor of criminology and criminal justice at Hamline University, where she teaches forensic psychology. Peterson also is the co-founder of The Violence Project and the author of an award-winning book, “The Violence Project: How to Stop a Mass Shooting Epidemic.”

Kenny Thompson, Jr., an acclaimed public affairs executive, also joins the Board of Directors. He is the Vice President of External Affairs, North America at PepsiCo focusing on growing the company’s reputation as a responsible corporate citizen through social impact, sustainability, and advocacy work. In 2022, Mr. Thompson served as the Private Sector Liaison for the Biden – Harris Transition while managing relationships with Fortune 500 CEOS and various industry firms. He previously held several advisory positions in the Obama-Biden White House, and currently is a Commissioner on the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships.

“Dr. Colleen Barry, Dr. Jillian Peterson, and Kenny Thompson, Jr. are prominent leaders in our shared work to raise awareness of the warning signs and end mass shootings,” said Nicole Hockley, Sandy Hook Promise’s co-founder and CEO, and mother of Dylan, who was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. “We are eager to work even more closely together, as they bring their exceptional, evidence-informed expertise to help strengthen our strategy to protect children.”

The organization also appointed members to the newly formed Advisory Board, Leadership Council, and Young Leaders Council:

The Advisory Board provides strategic guidance, support, and advice to SHP’s senior leadership team and Board of Directors. Advisory Board members utilize their diverse experience and subject matter expertise to enhance SHP as an organization and further advance its mission. Members to the Advisory Board include Nicole Benincasa, Mitru Ciarlante, Peter Land, Dr. Chethan Sathya, Brooke Stafford-Brizard, Dr. Erika Tobia, and Sheriff Errol Toulon.

The Leadership Council drives awareness and supports SHP’s fundraising efforts. Composed of members who have a passion for SHP’s mission and gun violence prevention overall, the Council uses their influence, resources, and/or networks to raise money and contribute to growth and impact plans for SHP. Appointees to the Leadership Council include David and Andrea Acker, Betsy Billard, Elizabeth Elting, Caroline Kellen, Aja Evans Longino, Scott Rechler, and Sonny Thadani.

The SHP Young Leaders Council (YLC) is a subcommittee of the Leadership Council that serves as a fundraising vehicle and engagement method for young professionals who are passionate about gun violence prevention. Through personal contributions/solicitations, fundraising events, and social media support, the YLC generates revenue for SHP’s programmatic budget and elevates its profile among other young professionals nationwide. Appointees to the YLC include Yianni Apostolakos, Nicole Benincasa, Ali Cantor, Megan Daversa, Nicole Daversa, Paul Dickinson, Annie Gilbert, Cate Goldsmith, Monica Levine, Andrew Mays, Morgen Montgomery, Olivia Mussafer, Theodore Richardson-Omamo, Rose Petrillo, Brooke Ruffa, Sloane Ruffa, Andy Smithline, Ethan Waite, James Wolf, and Luke Wolf.

“These distinguished new members of our councils bring a wealth of knowledge and unique perspectives and experiences to our organization and work,” said Hockley. “We welcome them and thank them for their commitment to protecting children from gun and school violence.”


About Sandy Hook Promise: Sandy Hook Promise (SHP) is a national nonprofit organization with a mission to end school shootings and create a culture change that prevents violence and other harmful acts that hurt children. Through its life-saving, evidence-informed “Know the Signs” prevention programs, SHP educates and empowers youth and adults to recognize, intervene, and get help for individuals who may be socially isolated and/or at risk of hurting themselves or others. Through nonpartisan policy and partnerships, SHP advances gun safety, youth mental health, and violence prevention education at the state and federal levels that protect all children from gun violence in their schools, homes, and communities. SHP is led by several family members whose loved ones were killed in the tragic mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012.  Learn more at