Twenty six white and green balloons were released into a cool, crisp air just past midnight on New Year's Day outside of Dee Man's Bar & Grill Family Restaurant in Naugatuck.
The balloons carried messages of love and longing for the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting on Dec. 14 that claimed the lives of 26 people, plus the shooter and his mother, in the Sandy Hook section of Newtown. Many of the messages were written to Naugatuck native Dawn (Lafferty) Hochsprung, the Sandy Hook principal who died while reportedly trying to protect her students.
One of the most poignant notes came from her daughter, Erica Lafferty, who wrote: "Happy New Year, Mommy. I love and miss you more than anything. Love, Erica Bear" (her mother's nickname for her since she was a child).
The event at Dee Man's was organized by CT Triumph Kickball in conjunction with the restaurant and Lafferty family members to raise money for a scholarship in memory of Hochsprung. It will be given annually to a graduating Naugatuck High School senior who plans to pursue a career in education. The event on New Year's raised $1,220 for the scholarship fund so far. Organizer Sean Cummings, of CT Triumph Kickball, said he expects the final tally to be more than $1,400 because wrist bands from the event are still being sold. (See info. about how to obtain them below.)
"I think it was a very good night," he said. "Several members of the family thanked me, saying we had no idea how much it meant to them. So to hear that and to see them happy made it worthwhile."
He said several people and organizations donated to the event, including Big Y World Class Markets, which gave a major discount on the balloons.
Hochsprung's daughters, Erica Lafferty and Cristina Lafferty Hassinger, wrote to Naugatuck Patch about the event:
"Last night was amazing! Sean Cummings and his team of volunteers did a phenomenal job setting everything up and promoting such an important event on short notice. Frank and Patty (restaurant owners) were great, making sure that everyone was happy, that the evening was stress free for my family and that were all well fed.
"Alexa LaValle is a teacher in Waterbury who has a DJ business on the side. When she heard that Sean and Dee Man's were setting up the event for my mom's scholarship fund, she did not think twice about volunteering to DJ the event to help raise money.
"For the first time in a while, my sister and I were able to relax and enjoy ourselves. We were planning on celebrating Christmas with my mom last night, so having the outpouring of love and support of family and friends meant the world to us.
"The balloon release was magical. We all wrote messages to my mom on green and white balloons and released them at midnight during a champagne toast. (I wrote on her Facebook wall telling her to read mine first!)
"Tina and I had our arms lined with "WWDD" (What Would Dawn Do) bracelets to sell. Bracelets can also be purchased on Dawn's memorial page: www.dawnhochsprungmemorialfund.org."
Cristina Lafferty Hassinger wrote:
"The benefit gave family and friends an opportunity to swap Dawn stories and honor her heroism while ringing in the new year. The bubbly, upbeat atmosphere was the perfect reflection of the woman we were there to honor. I think we were all grateful for the lighter mood in the wake of such tragedy, and we were able to raise money for a great cause at the same time.
"And, of course, we can't give enough thanks to CT Triumph Kickball and Dee Man's Bar & Grill for making it all possible."