On December 14 as I watched the enormity of the school shootings in Sandy Hook Elementary School begin to unfold, I realized that the United Way of Western Connecticut would need to play a role. We quickly worked with Newtown Savings Bank to get a fund set up that was legitimate and would be available for both the immediate and long-term needs of the community. This was clearly an unprecedented event. Determining how this fund would be needed would not be immediately known and those decisions would need to be made by local leaders and residents.
Since that Friday afternoon, I have been asked many times what our role is. The film March of the Penguins kept coming to my mind, which I saw many years ago at the Edmond Town Hall movie theater in Newtown when my daughter was four years old. Given the circumstances, you would think a story about penguins would be the furthest thing from my mind. But upon further reflection, it occurred to me why this story kept returning to me.
The tale of the emperor penguins presents an analogy of United Way’s role and responsibility.
In the film, the mother penguin, after being close to starving, moves her egg to the father penguin in anticipation of a harsh winter. She then leaves for a long and arduous trek to the ocean to feed and refuel so that she can return for her new baby bird to take care of it and nurture it.
The father penguin keeps the egg safe all winter. Through blizzards and plummeting temperatures, the father penguin carries the egg on its feet, huddled together with all the other fathers holding eggs, leaning on each other to survive. If one of these birds is left outside the group, he does not survive.
When she is ready and able, the mother penguin returns to care for her young. And at that time the father penguin relinquishes the custody of the offspring, which has hatched and grown during the time the mother penguin restored her health.
I see the mother penguin as the Sandy Hook/Newtown community. It will take some time for the community leaders and residents to heal enough to make tough and clear-headed decisions for the future needs of the town. They will most definitely refuel and return to steer their community’s future.
I see United Way of Western Connecticut as one of the father penguins. There are many eggs to care for, and so it takes many others to protect them all. The many service providers and volunteers who showed up to help are also acting as father penguins with eggs to care for. We are all leaning on each other during this difficult season.
I see our egg as the fund that was set up as the ‘Sandy Hook School Support Fund’. The purpose is general; to help the community heal in the way they determine is best. It is ours to watch over and protect until the community returns to make the tough decisions ahead. It won’t take too long, but we will wait until they are ready. And that is our role and responsibility.
Chief Executive Officer
United Way of Western Connecticut