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  • Carol Swartout Klein

"Painting for Peace in Ferguson" now helping thousands of students across Stratford, CT

Vicki Soto Memorial Fund book cover

A lot has been happening behind the scenes with Painting for Peace in Ferguson of late, and we’re finally able to share the good news.

Five years ago Newtown CT, and Ferguson, MO were just small towns that not many people had heard of before. Today these two communities share the fact that their names now stand for more than just a place. It’s been 5.5 years since the fatal shooting of 20 first-graders and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut and nearly 4 years since the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Today both communities are forever changed. Newtown is playing a leading role in gun safety advocacy and Ferguson became the launching pad for the Black Lives Matter movement. Both communities continue to deal with what “comes next.”

In Connecticut, one family has created a memorial fund in honor of Vicki Soto, a young, vibrant first grade teacher at Sandy Hook who lost her life protecting her students. The fund’s goal is to continue her legacy of teaching and learning and loving life. Not too long ago, Vicki’s brother, Mathew contacted us about Painting for Peace in Ferguson and asked us if the Vicki Soto Memorial Fund could purchase 250 books for students in Vicki’s hometown of Stratford (about 30 minutes drive from Newtown).

That request quickly changed to 3,700 books -- enough for every single student in the Stratford Public School elementary system from K-6 grade, to have their own copy of the book. In early June, all 3,700 books were handed out to the excited students.

Jenny Blake, a reading specialist for K-6 grades at Wilcoxson Elementary in Stratford has been involved with the Soto Foundation book donations since the beginning.

Blake said the book is gorgeous and knows it’s going to be a hit with all the students, “We just painted a ‘Be Kind’ mural with the Ben Bells project on a blank wall in building, so this book reinforces what we just did. The students will have this summer with their families to read the book and they’ll come back in the fall when teachers will have opportunities to do projects based around the book.”

“I was truly moved when I learned that my book had been selected by the Vicki Soto Memorial Fund to be shared with the students there,” Carol Klein, author of Painting for Peace in Ferguson said. “I have seen how art has played a crucial role in Ferguson – being both cathartic and challenging and allowing both children and adults to work through their emotions and grapple with change in new ways.

“At its root, Painting for Peace in Ferguson is about community — about everyday people of all ages and backgrounds — coming together after crisis strikes,” Klein continued. “And while the circumstances between Ferguson and Newtown were vastly different the question of what ‘comes next’ and how do we as a society ensure the safety of all our residents is something both communities continue to address.

inside cover page of book

“When Mathew contacted me and I learned what the foundation was about and what they wanted to do, I knew it was a perfect fit with how I envisioned the book helping others. I have seen the many creative ways educators have embraced Painting for Peace in Ferguson and used it to help teach children, whether it’s by creating their own curriculum, art projects or using the teacher’s guide we’ve created. It is humbling that this art that created so much healing in Ferguson can, in some small way, continue to share that love and support with Newtown and Stratford. Perhaps what I find most remarkable is that the unselfish acts of artists on a cold November day in Ferguson four years ago is continuing to spread positive ripples of hope and goodwill to this day.”

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