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Alisha McNamara sees the future in the faces of her children, spurring her to work for the Playground Committee at the Killingworth Elementary School and for Dylan's Wings of Change and Sandy Hook Promise, which were both founded in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy in 2012. (Photo by Maria Caulfield/The Source | Buy This Photo)
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Alisha McNamara is a woman with a mission.
A former school teacher, she moved to Killingworth six years ago and now works part time as a fitness instructor while caring for her four young children with Ryan, her husband of 12 years. But she also sees the future in the faces of her children, aged 3 to 12, and dedicates her time on two separate causes with different but worthy goals.
She recently became involved with Sandy Hook Promise and Dylan’s Wings of Change, both founded in the wake of the Newtown massacre in 2012 and now operating across the United States.
At the same time, she has not lost her focus on the local level, where she is deeply involved with the Killingworth Elementary School (KES), serving on the board as a past secretary and co-president. Today, she is involved with the Parent-Teacher Organization (PTO) as head of a number of committees, including the Playground Committee, which seeks to replace the playground at the back of the school.
She sees her volunteer work with the playground project as a short-term endeavor and her involvement with Sandy Hook Promise and Dylan’s Wings of Change as her long-term mission.
Working for Play
Concerned that the wooden playground in the back of the school continues to rot, Alisha wants to draw attention to the need to replace the structure. Built in 1989, the playground shows areas of wear that have been addressed with quick fixes, and Alisha thinks it’s time for a new playground altogether.
“Every year, the facilities committee goes back there and says it’s fine. It’s not fine. It needs to be just taken down and something updated needs to go there ASAP,” she says.
She notes that while some areas, like the top of the hand rails, have been patched up with a composite material, other areas such as the bottom half of the rails remain in the original state and have become prone to splinters.
“They’ve done like a piece of TREX so that the children aren’t going to run over the wood on the top, but they can still run their fingers over” the lower rails, she explains.
“Sometimes there’s a huge caution tape around these big places around the playground. There are bees here; they can’t play in that part of it. Or this is falling off, they can’t play in [this] part,” she says.
“It needs to be torn down and something updated needs to go back there. The kids deserve it,” she adds.
With the help of her co-chair, Samantha Harvey, and members of the Playground Committee, Alisha got to work on a fundraising effort.
Let’s Play! is a fundraising initiative that draws up a series of events and programs to raise money for the playground. With a goal of $75,000 and a planned construction in August 2020, Alisha and the committee realize they have their work cut out for them.
One of the fundraising events is a brick campaign that allows sponsors to make their mark on the playground.
A small brick can have up to three lines; a large one can have five lines. For an added fee, the PTO can have graphics included in the brick. The cost for each brick ranges from $100 for a small brick with text and no graphics to $500 for a large brick with a corporate sponsor logo.
For more information, donors can contact KESnewplayground@gmail.com or visit killingworth.ptboard.com or the Facebook page of Killingworth Elementary School New Playground Fundraiser. The deadline for submission for the brick campaign is Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020, but the PTO will continue fundraising indefinitely to allow more donors to make a contribution. Donors can also send a check made out to KESPTO with “Playground” on the memo to Killingworth Elementary School, 340 Route 81, Killingworth, CT 06419.
“It’s been an uphill battle to be honest,” Alisha says. “But there’s a group of parents that really believe this is important for the kids. Three out of four of my kids won’t even see this playground. I mean, let’s hope my three-year old will see this, but I’m not doing this for personal reasons. It’s something I believe our town and our children deserve,” she adds.
Spurred by Tragedy
Alisha also talks passionately about the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, a tragedy that deeply affected her.
On Dec. 14, 2012, in one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history, a gunman entered Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, opened fire, and killed 26 people, including 20 children ages 6 to 7.
“I remember that day. You know we all probably have our 9/11 stories, or whatever it is. We all probably remember exactly where we were at those times. So that—more than anything—really affected me in terms of a world tragedy,” she recalls.
At the time of the shooting, Alisha had three of her four children, with her oldest son at the age of 5.
“As a new mom, as a young mom, as a teacher, I just had so many feelings in so many ways,” Alisha remembers.
She followed some of the families on Facebook and connected with Ian Hockley, father to six-year-old Dylan, one of the victims.
“I’ve always wanted to do something for them, in honor of them, I just didn’t know what that was. And just this past year, again I followed these families on Facebook. I follow Dylan’s Wings of Change,” she says.
Dylan’s Wings of Change is an organization that recognizes the “epidemic of social isolation and exclusion that is plaguing communities across the world.”
In an effort to combat this social isolation, Dylan’s Wings of Change implemented Wingman, a youth-led social and emotional learning program designed to instill positive qualities in participants to build stronger and more resilient communities.
Since its launch in 2015, Wingman reached more than 300 organizations in four countries that have adopted the program to transform their communities.
Dylan’s Wings of Change is fiscally sponsored by the Sandy Hook Promise Foundation. According to its website, Sandy Hook Promise 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.”
Spurred by a desire to help combat the social and emotional roots of gun violence and tugged by her goal to run a marathon, Alisha made a decision to run the New York City Marathon for Dylan’s Wings of Change and Sandy Hook Promise.
She remembers reaching out to Hockley to inform him of her plan.
“I gave him my story and why I would love to run for them, and he said, ‘You’re in. We’d love to have you.’ So, I began training for the New York Marathon, which was just Nov. 23,” she says, “and I was able to raise close to $5,000.”
The experience left a lasting impact on Alisha.
She even recalls a luncheon on the eve of the marathon, when the runners heard from the loved ones of the victims at the event.
“It was just a very moving experience, that when I was done, I had made the decision that I will be working with Dylan’s Wings of Change,” she says.
She adds, “I’m so glad I was able to raise $5,000. But now, I’m not just going to go home and go back to my life. This is huge. We’re helping so many children and people.”
For more information about Dylan’s Wings of Change, visit www.dylanswingsofchange.org.
For more information about Sandy Hook Promise, visit www.sandyhookpromise.org.
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