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From Brandon Township to Newtown—love and prayers



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December 19, 2012 - Brandon Twp.-When Darian McNeir-Nealy's mother told him about the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary on Dec. 14 that took the lives of 20 young students and six women at the school in Newtown, Ct., the 11-year-old, like so many others, was struck with grief.

"My Mom told me what happened and I said, 'That's really sad,'" recalls Darian. The sixth grade student at Brandon Fletcher Intermediate School decided action was needed.

"My friend said we could do something and I said, 'Yeah, how about a bake sale?' and I said, 'We can get a teacher or parent to help us.'"

Darian went to BFIS Principal Carol Bogner and told her of his bake sale idea. She was touched by the gesture to help victims and their families. On Wednesday, Darian and other BFIS students sold cupcakes, brownies, cookies, chocolate-covered pretzels and more at lunchtime.

"I just hope (the bake sale) is a good thing," he said. "Sometimes bad things happen in my family and we need a boost up and that's what I am hoping to do for them."

The students made more than $240 at the end of the lunch period and planned to do the sale again on Thursday due to its success.

"They are doing a wonderful thing," said Bogner, who noted the tables were overflowing with treats. "We can really learn from these kids."

At Brandon Middle School, students banded together to make cards and posters to send to the Sandy Hook families, expressing their sympathy and sending "Hugs from Brandon Middle School."

At a volleyball tournament on Saturday, eighth grade players from the BMS girls volleyball team and students from four other schools signed a banner to send.

While teachers in the upper grades discussed the tragedy with their students, teachers and administrators at the area elementary schools took a different approach.

At Oakwood Elementary, Principal Kristy Spann met with staff on Monday before school began to make sure children were protected from getting too much information about the tragedy. She noted Oakwood students are a variety of ages and come from a variety of homes in which some parents had been very purposeful about protecting their children from what was going on and others in which children had various levels of news exposure.

"Our goal was not to add anything to students' knowledge base," Spann said. "We felt it was a very personal decision based on a child's age and their ability to process. When there are particular tragic events in the news, we as adults need to be mindful about being factual and only giving enough information to answer questions and in a way that is age appropriate."

In the morning announcements over the PA system, Spann told the students that sometimes sad things happen and sometimes bad things happen, but when something happens, students should look around for the helpers, teachers, police, firefighters, and volunteers.

She explained that something bad happened in another part of the country and one way to honor people who have been hurt is to lower the flag to half-mast and to observe a moment of silence. They did both and then she invited them, as she often does, to live their lives in a way they can be proud of. The day then proceeded as normal and Spann was relieved to see the children happy, chatty and giggly, ready for Christmas break.

At the Ortonville United Methodist Church, a "Blue Christmas" worship service was held last Sunday for people who have lost loved ones during the year or are otherwise grieving this holiday season and are seeking comfort and solace. Some of the attendees at the service expressed to Pastor Jeremy Benton they came specifically because they are mourning the Newtown tragedy.

At times like this, Benton notes people often ask why God allows these tragic events to happen. He believes there is no real answer to that question, as the question in and of itself has faulty presumptions.

"It presumes that God is in control of everything and is benevolent and omniscient and I don't think we have to presume all those realities of God," he said. "We see God present in the responses of those who offer prayer, concern, who come to aid those in tragedies such as this or in natural disasters such as Superstorm Sandy."

Another question that is often asked, Benton said, is 'What do we do now?'

To that, he answers, "We pray. We pray for those parents who lost their children to find a moment of respite, some comfort, and in time, healing. I think we hug our own children a little tighter and take this time to remind them they are loved and have a place. I think we take a harder look at our own community in Ortonville and how we care for our children."

"We do live in a world where there are times where the darkness of illness and loneliness comes out in dangerous and lethal ways, but as a community we can come together to show that our children matter and we care for those who are lost and lonely and sick. We can find comfort in our sense of community."

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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