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Why Rich Harwood is in Newtown, CT

When I heard that my friend and colleague Rich Harwood of The Harwood Institute was invited to Newtown to help local leaders and residents make decisions about what to do with Sandy Hook Elementary School, I asked him if he’d be willing to send us a post about his work for the NCDD blog. It looks like we’ll be sharing a series of posts as Rich’s work in Newtown progresses.  Here is the first…

This week I am going to Newtown, CT, where I’ve been asked to help design and facilitate the decision-making process on the future of the Sandy Hook Elementary School, where the tragic shooting of 20 students and 6 educators took place nearly four months ago. I decided to take on this assignment for two reasons.

Since the day of the tragedy, the Sandy Hook Elementary School has been closed. Its students were moved to a vacant school building elsewhere in the Newtown community to finish out the school year. At issue for the community now is how to move forward. Do they remodel the existing Sandy Hook School, build a new school on the existing site, or start fresh on an entirely different property. These issues involve both technical and deeply emotional questions.

The request for me to work with Newtown came at a time when I have been (and will be) continually on the road for The Work of Hope national tour, when our national alliances are growing (a new one with American Library Association is just underway), when we launched our first ever Beacon Community in Battle Creek, MI, and when we are strengthening our own internal capacities and operations.

Despite this ongoing work, I felt compelled – perhaps called – to work with Newtown.

First, I see it as a way to make a contribution to the community as it seeks to move forward after this horrific tragedy. I believe this is important work to do. I want to contribute in any way I can.

Second, Newtown now holds within the nation a special place in our hearts and minds. Here is a community that has experienced the unthinkable; and yet, here also is a community that is finding a path forward, amid its grief and pain and sorrow. What I know from talking in-depth with Americans from all walks of life is that we as a nation need to restore belief in ourselves that we can get things done together.

Newtown is helping to lead the way – demonstrating through the Sandy Hook Elementary School decision-making process, and on countless other concerns, what it means for a community to come together and engage on tough issues. And to do it as best they can with a sense of hope and grace.

I will keep you posted.

In the meantime, I know our thoughts and prayers are with the good people of Newtown.

– Rich Harwood

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Sandy Heierbacher
Sandy Heierbacher co-founded the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation (NCDD) with Andy Fluke in 2002, with the 60 volunteers and 50 organizations who worked together to plan NCDD’s first national conference. She served as NCDD's Executive Director between 2002 and 2018. Click here for a list of articles and resources authored by Sandy.

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