On the evening of Wednesday, June 19th, Sandy Hook Promise (SHP) hosted its fifth annual Promise Champions Gala at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in Washington D.C. to honor men and women from across the country for their work in gun violence prevention. The 2019 honorees included U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) and U.S. Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), who are being recognized for their enduring commitment to creating safer communities.
Students Against Violence Everywhere (SAVE) Promise Club Youth Advisory Board Member, Kristina Alzugaray, held an engaging panel discussion with Senator Coons and Congressman Fitzpatrick to discuss the ways that each are currently championing for the safety of students and communities across the country at the legislative level, as well as ways that they will continue to do so in the future.
During the discussion, Congressman Fitzpatrick highlighted that, “SHP has shined a light on how hard it is to be a kid today” and, with all of the pressures that they face, that we should “move to a model where mental health services are available at schools.” Senator Coons, who has met with students who don’t feel safe because of active shooter drills and bullying, mentioned that “funding [should be available at the state level] for preventive training and mental health services.”
The honorary co-chairs for this year’s gala were Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), U.S. Congresswoman Jahana Hayes (D-CT), U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT), and U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), the Senate Democratic Leader. Senator Blumenthal, Congresswoman Hayes, and Senator Murphy were joined by SAVE Promise Club Youth Advisory Board Member Braelyn Willis for a riveting discussion on school safety. Senator Schumer was unable to attend but submitted a video praising SHP for its efforts and mentioned that, “as long as I’m in the Senate, I will fight with [SHP] every day.”
During the panel discussion Senator Blumenthal opened by touching on a school shooting plot that was averted in Seymour, CT earlier this year, thanks for SHP’s Say Something program. “No community is safe from gun violence,” said Blumenthal. He continued with, “leadership by example is the most powerful way [to show students how to be proactive in stopping school violence]. Senator Murphy agreed stating that, “identification and intervention is key” to curbing violence in schools and that “when you train students, you can change the culture.” Congressman Hayes, who is a former educator, added, “we cannot have conversations about kids without including them in the conversation. We cannot ignore those closest to the problem.” She also praised SHP for including the dynamic student leaders in the event and encouraging dialogue between the youth and change makers.
SHP’s mission galvanized support from both sides of the political aisle, as more than 100 members of Congress came together to serve on the honorary co-chair committee for this event. They were joined by esteemed business and philanthropic leaders and volunteers from across the nation who are creating change within their communities.
This year’s theme was MANY VOICES, ONE PROMISE, emphasizing the many voices across all issues related to gun violence that, together, make the promise to protect our children from gun violence. The event also featured stories of interventions and positive impact from schools across the nation using Sandy Hook Promise’s Know the Signs programs.
“We will act on behalf of children. We will do everything we can (to) find solutions that work. We will remain non-partisan and work with anyone and everyone to make change happen. Republicans, Democrats, Independents. Law enforcement, educators, community leaders. Kids, parents and grandparents. Everyone. And we will never stop. Because a promise is a promise. This is something we will never break,” said Nicole Hockley, co-founder and managing director of Sandy Hook Promise, and mother of Dylan who was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy, in the opening remarks.
To date, SHP has trained over 7.5 million youth and adults in 14,000+ schools and youth organizations in all 50 states to recognize the signs of potential violence and intervene before a tragedy can occur. This year alone, SHP has trained over 4 million people alone. The four Know the Signs programs have helped stop multiple school shootings, suicides, and threats; reduce bullying and cyberbullying; intervene on cutting, substance use, hate crimes, and other forms of violence and self-harm; and have helped hundreds of youth to get the mental health assistance they need.
The organization was also instrumental in the bi-partisan introduction of the Suicide and Threat Assessment Nationally Dedicated to Universal Prevention (STANDUP) Act of 2019 last month. If passed, the bill encourages select states to expand access to evidence-based suicide prevention training to every student in grades 6 through 12 and train schools in proven school threat assessment models. These models provide guidelines for threat identification, triage, and intervention, as well as established procedures and protocols for coordinating with local law enforcement. In layman’s terms, the bill gives school access to life-saving training in suicide prevention and threat assessment.
In 2018, SHP introduced and helped pass the STOP School Violence Act at the federal level, which provides annual grants to state and local education agencies to bring evidence-based prevention programs and strategies to schools. Through this legislation, SHP was able to protect over 2.6 million youth and adults as the organization worked directly with 15 school districts and states including California, Massachusetts, and New Jersey. In May, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (CJS) voted within the committee to increase the funding for school violence prevention grants for states, local governments, and tribes from $100 million to $125 million.
About Sandy Hook Promise: Sandy Hook Promise (SHP) is a national nonprofit organization based in Newtown, Connecticut. 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. SHP’s mission is to prevent gun violence and other forms of violence and victimization BEFORE they can happen by creating a culture of engaged youth and adults committed to identifying, intervening, and getting help for individuals who might be at risk of hurting themselves or others. SHP is a moderate, above-the-politics organization that supports sensible program and policy solutions that address the “human side” of gun violence by preventing individuals from ever getting to the point of picking up a firearm to hurt themselves or others. Our words, actions, and impact nationwide are intended to honor all victims of gun violence by turning our tragedy into a moment of transformation. Make the Promise at www.sandyhookpromise.org.