Tag Archives: love

25 Days of Giving Day Twenty-Three: Believe

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In 1992 I was twenty-two years old and living in Chicago. The market was tough for recent college grads, and after a part-time series of temp assignments and waiting tables, I took a job selling industrial products on the south side of town. It wasn’t a career move by any stretch, but it paid the bills and afforded me independence and the opportunity to spread my wings beyond the Kentucky state lines that bordered my childhood.

Anyone who’s visited Chicago in the winter knows it’s cold…complete with a biting, frigid wind that can cut you in half and come back for more before you’ve barely taken a step. It was on this kind of night, having worked late and in a hurry, that I jumped into my car, popped the clutch toward I-94, cranked up some music, and began the long drive home.

Just as the chorus crescendoed, my car started to sputter, gurgle, and lurch. In my haste to pick the right mini-skirt, tights, and oversized sweater that morning I’d forgotten one small detail. To look at my gas gauge. Before completely running out of fuel, I was able to ease my car onto an exit ramp, right in front of this:

Long before rap culture decriminalized the word, Chicago’s Robert Taylor homes were the true definition of “ghetto”. Worse than anything you’ll ever see on The Wire, these gang-riddled, drug-controlled, high-rises were the living, breathing embodiment of a failed social experiment better known as Hell.

There were no mass-market cell phones back then, so in order to get help, I had to walk right into the middle of the most brutal section of the housing development, better known as “The Hole” in my mini-skirt, tights, and not-feeling-so oversized sweater. The streets were busy that night, and for the first time in my life I was clearly part of the minority, the only white girl in a sea of black faces, hardened to the harsh elements, who, like me, were just trying to get where they needed to go. I hurried, one uncertain step after the other, to the first high-rise I came across. Surrounded by darkness, there was a security guard in a low-lit office at the base of the building. He either didn’t see me or didn’t want to be bothered, so I balled my hand into a fist and banged on the bullet-proof window.

“Please, Sir,” I yelled into the howling wind,”Can I use your phone?”

“Ain’t no phone here baby girl,” he answered. “You best keep moving and find somewhere else to be.”

I hesitated, somewhat stunned by his response, and stared through the window, willing him to change his mind. When he crossed his arms and turned to watch his security monitors instead of meeting my gaze, I knew I was truly alone.

With no other choice, I walked back into the dark night. The snow was falling with a hard sense of urgency, and the swirl of faces around me faded in an out, like ghosts. I stumbled and caught myself, the slick pavement beneath me now covered in a sheen of icy snow. Not knowing what else to do I stopped. I looked left, then right, only to see replica after replica of a building that could offer me no shelter. In that moment, surrounded by nameless strangers in a dangerous place no one wanted to own, I lost something critical to finding my way. Hope.

And then something miraculous happened.

“I know you,” I heard from behind as someone caught my elbow in their grasp.

“Excuse me?” I replied. I turned, startled to see an old lady about my grandmother’s age who seemed to have come out of nowhere, bundled up in her winter clothes.

“I saw you from the bus when your car broke down,” she said. “Follow me. I know where to go.”

We didn’t talk. The temperature had plunged to a degree that made my nostrils cringe and shocked my lungs with every breath. But slowly, step after step she led, and slowly, step after step I followed.

After weaving around multiple, desolate buildings, we moved deeper into the projects and came upon a county hospital. I have no idea how we got there and couldn’t replicate the path. Again, there were people everywhere, but I had the acute understanding that no one wanted to offer a hand. Except her.

She led me to a bank of telephones and gave me a quarter.

“Call 9-1-1” she instructed, “and tell them where to find your car.” I did exactly as she said. When I turned to thank her for the quarter, for taking time to help me, and for somehow seeing me when I felt invisable, she was gone. She had literally disappeared into thin air. Standing in her place was a police officer, who again took me by the elbow and said three simple words: “You’re going home.”

Sometimes I sit on the right side of God, and other days on the left. On that night, however, I was fully in his sight. I know, with a whole heart and eyes wide open that an angel was sent to me in the moment when I needed her most. I don’t know why or how, but something much bigger than me was at play, and it was an experience so profound that I have no choice but to believe.

I believe in the greater good of humanity. I believe that no matter the circumstance, everyone on this earth has the power within to rise up. I believe in equality. I believe in the kindness of strangers. I believe that tomorrow holds the possibility of being better than today. I believe life is worth living. I believe in me. I believe in you. The Giving Challenge for today is to Believe.

25 Days of Giving Day Twenty-One: Forgive and Forget

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Everyone wants to be heard. It’s a natural, inherent desire that often has the power to lift you up, and can sometimes bring you down. The up? Kind words, personal validation, anything that lightens your load. The down? Meaningless conflict, petty arguments, self-righteous posturing that takes the air out of a room and returns…nothing.

The Giving Challenge for today is to Forgive and Forget, and the scope of that forgiveness is entirely up to you. Maybe it’s as simple as ignoring a Facebook comment that only ignites one side of a debate. Maybe it’s more difficult, like excusing a longstanding grudge that, when you look at it from the inside out, grew stale long before its expiration date.

Whatever you choose, there’s one thing, based on personal experience, that I know for sure. The greatest beneficiary of your gift will be you.

I saw this on the backside of a bathroom stall at my son's basketball tournament yesterday. Proof positive that inspiration can come from really strange places.

I saw this written on the backside of a bathroom stall at my son’s basketball tournament yesterday. Proof positive that inspiration can come from really strange places.

*If you’re wondering what happened to days nineteen and twenty? So am I.

 I, Gemini Girl, have interrupted my non-existent programming to bring you the 25 Days of Giving Challenge. Please join me in my quest, over the next 25 days(ish), to make people happy. I’ll share stories of giving escapades that will be sure to wow, delight, or at least not annoy anyone who chooses to participate. Each Day of Giving will be conveniently brought to you via email if you follow this blog. And if you’re already a follower? Pass it onto your friends. If we work together we can change the world, or at least dramatically improve my hit ratio.

25 Days of Giving Day Fifteen: Speak Up for Someone Who Can’t Speak for Themselves

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Not long ago, I found myself rushing to the grocery store to get something one of my kids needed the next day for school. It was late and I was tired, preoccupied, and annoyed. Like most moms, I was running behind an endless to-do list that seemed to square itself and multiply whenever I wasn’t looking. Snow swirled outside, it was an unusually frigid night, and a humid chill was biting, snapping, and pushing people indoors. All I wanted to do was get what I needed, check out, and go home.

Turning down the frozen food aisle, I came upon a young boy, about my son’s age, and an old man. The man was huge; well over six feet tall, unshaven, wearing dirty old jeans, suspenders, and an untucked shirt.

The boy? Small. Cowering. A little disheveled as he gazed up at the man while simultaneously trying to avoid meeting the harsh gaze in his eyes. He reached for a frozen pizza, and the old man smacked it out of his hand, mocked his sagging posture, and demanded, “What do you think I am, an ATM?”

The boy looked down at his feet and didn’t say a word.

In that moment, I knew something was wrong.

I slowed down, eased up close, cleared my throat, and tried to make myself known. The old man realized I was there, made eye contact, and didn’t smile. I didn’t smile back. Then he grabbed the boy by the shoulder, threw a glare in my direction, and dragged him toward the door.

I felt a mixture of emotions in that moment…anger, confusion, pain, sadness…but the one that overwhelmed me and now makes me feel ashamed?

Fear.

That man scared me, and in a split second I used fear to assess and rationalize what I was about to not do…my husband was out of town, the kids were home alone, and the storm outside was getting worse. In an attempt to justify my inaction, I convinced myself that the old man was probably the boy’s grandfather, unemployed, and having a bad day.

Except my gut told me that wasn’t the case. The little boy needed help, and I didn’t extend my hand.

I’d give anything to have that moment in the grocery store back, to actually listen to my sixth sense instead of brushing it aside, to have made a different choice. But it’s gone. Left alone, the voice of indecision becomes that of regret, and it doesn’t go away.

I’m now haunted by that innocent child in the grocery store, wondering where he is, and at the same time, who I failed to be. The Challenge for Day Fifteen is to speak for someone who can’t speak for themselves. I realize this opportunity may not present itself today, but it will in the not too distant future. Whether it’s helping an elderly woman who’s struggling to get her groceries from the cart to her car, saying “hi” to a kid at school who seems to always end up on the wrong side of everyone’s jokes, or diffusing a tense situation with a smile, whenever you take the opportunity to help someone who’s in a worse place than you, you give them a voice.

If you’d like to help an innocent child, please visit http://www.casaforchildren.org.

I, Gemini Girl, have interrupted my non-existent programming to bring you the 25 Days of Giving Challenge. Please join me in my quest, over the next 25 days, to make people happy. I’ll share stories of giving escapades that will be sure to wow, delight, or at least not annoy anyone who chooses to participate. Each Day of Giving will be conveniently brought to you via email if you follow this blog. And if you’re already a follower? Pass it onto your friends. If we work together we can change the world, or at least dramatically improve my hit ratio.

25 Days of Giving Day Four: Find the Silver Lining

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When I was two years old my parents got divorced. I was lucky in a way, because at the time I was too young to understand that separation, at it’s most basic level, is the physical manifestation of pain being split in two.

By the time I’d turned five Mom had remarried. We left Atlanta, where our entire family was from, and moved to Louisville, where I ultimately grew up. Back then, fathers didn’t have the same parenting rights as today, so with a brand new puppy under one arm and a pack of candy cigarettes in my hand, I waved goodbye to my father as my stepdad’s sleek, silver Thunderbird rolled down the driveway, through Tennessee (“See Rock City!”), and toward a new life.

As time went by, pieces of my old family became seedlings for another, and when my amazing baby brother was born, my new family was complete, but in a different kind of way. There was someone else present who, even though he wasn’t part of this new unit, was still in the mix because he was attached to me.

My father.

I wouldn’t say things were perfect between my mother and father, because even when bad memories fade they leave a scar. But Mom always held the door open for visits, and my father never missed an opportunity to take any time with me that she was willing to share.

As years passed and I became increasingly comfortable with my family dynamics, I began to see myself as lucky, even though it wasn’t always easy. I was a Whitten and everyone else I lived with was a Logan, I felt like a misfit in the world of seemingly perfect families on my block, and I sometimes had to paint a smile on my face when all I wanted to do was cry. But intermingled with the sad was something that no other kid I knew could match. Not only did I have one great dad, I had two, with different but equally important ideas, strengths, influences, opinions, and dreams…and one huge commonality. They both loved me, in a way that only a father can. Times two.

So the challenge, for Day Four, is to find the silver lining in a bad situation or event. In some unfortunate incidents it simply doesn’t exist, which, regrettably, is the true definition of tragedy. But in many cases, good can be salvaged from bad. If you can find happiness in something that at first only brought pain, it’s a gift to yourself that never goes away.

Divorce, like life, is complicated. It’s messy and raw, and carefully drawn colors end up bleeding outside the lines. Sometimes though, if we’re lucky, the things that hurt most end up helping us in the end.

I, Gemini Girl, have interrupted my non-existent programming to bring you the 25 Days of Giving Challenge. Please join me in my quest, over the next 25 days, to make people happy. I’ll share stories of giving escapades that will be sure to wow, impress, or at least not annoy anyone who chooses to participate. Each Day of Giving will be conveniently brought to you via email if you follow this blog. And if you’re already a follower? Pass it onto your friends. If we work together we can change the world, or at least dramatically improve my hit ratio.

25 Days of Giving Day Three: Free Up Some Space

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It never fails that when I’m in line at Costco with a double-wide full of everything I don’t need, some guy is patiently standing behind me with three packages of flan. So I step aside.

My definition of purgatory. Image via homelyplanet.com

I’m always surprised at how appreciative people are when I let them go first, but when I think about it more deeply, I realize that I’m always rushing, pressed for time, often trying to fit way too much into a day that simply can’t stretch beyond the bounds of a ticking clock. And so is everyone else.

When you give up space, you’re literally telling someone that for the moment you consider their needs more important than yours. It’s such a simple connection point and serves as a tangible way to tell somebody, often a stranger, that they matter.

So for Day Three I’m asking you to let someone else go first. Whether it’s a spot in line, a parking space at the mall, or simply pausing to let the person behind you walk through the door ahead of you, give it a try. It’s a kindness that costs next to nothing, and you’ll find that the reward is truly worth the wait.

I, Gemini Girl, have interrupted my non-existent programming to bring you the 25 Days of Giving Challenge. Please join me in my quest, over the next 25 days, to make people happy. I’ll share stories of giving escapades that will be sure to wow, delight, or at least not annoy anyone who chooses to participate. Each Day of Giving will be conveniently brought to you via email if you follow this blog. And if you’re already a follower? Pass it onto your friends. If we work together we can change the world, or at least dramatically improve my hit ratio.

25 Days of Giving Day Two: Say Thank You

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Thank you. Why are two of the simplest words in the English language sometimes so hard to say?

When I was a senior in high school, I applied to two colleges. The first was the school I was destined to attend. The second? An afterthought, just in case the world’s largest sink hole, triggered by a flying unicorn tethered to an alien spacecraft piloted by Tom Cruise, happened to swallow my first choice whole.

Image via ewrewd.files.wordpress.com

That didn’t happen. Instead I was wait-listed, which for me, was the equivalent of being tethered to an alien spacecraft piloted by Tom Cruise. After getting the news, I became completely unmoored and sullen, sequestering myself in my closet with Erasure’s Oh L’Amour pounding through the headphones of my Sony Mega Bass Sports Walkman over, and over, and over.

After about a week of intense suffering, understood only by Sting via his howling lyrics on King of Pain (which was also in heavy rotation on the cassette player in my car), my dad told me to shower, put on some clean clothes, and pull out my 1/2 inch curling iron…it was time for a father-daughter road trip.

Somehow, we ended up at Miami University that day, and before I knew what was happening, I found myself face-to-face with the Dean of Admissions, better known as The Dream Crusher. I sat, immobilized by fear, as Dad listed virtues I didn’t even know I had in his pitch to get me a spot in the incoming freshman class. This wonderful man, who had never, not once in my eighteen years of life, raised his voice against me was raising it for me, to the roof.

If you asked, Dad would tell you what he did was no big deal, and that he really just wanted to create some space between himself and my constant feed of synthesizer-heavy, sappy songs. But I disagree. I think what he did was extraordinary. He stood up for me at a time in life when I didn’t know how to stand up for myself and taught me that when you want something to change, the first thing you do is ask. Huge lessons on a short road trip that got me into the school of my dreams and altered the course of my life. For that?

Thank you Dad.

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My Dad

If you can, make today’s thank you a little special. Think about something you’ve left unsettled, listen to the voice inside your head that never sleeps (I have about twelve), and dig a little deeper under the surface of obvious. Thank you. Two simple words that, the more you say, the easier they are to pronounce.

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I, Gemini Girl, have interrupted my non-existent scheduled programming to bring you the 25 Days of Giving Challenge. Please join me in my quest, over the next 25 days, to make people happy. I’ll share stories of giving escapades that will be sure to wow, impress, or at least not annoy anyone who chooses to participate. Each Day of Giving will be conveniently brought to you via email if you follow this blog. And if you’re already a follower? Pass it onto your friends. If we work together we can change the world, or at least dramatically improve my hit ratio.

 

25 Days of Giving Day One: Pay A Stranger A Compliment

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Greetings from the land of Gemini Girl in a Random World, better known as Siberia. It’s that time of year again, and instead of posting porn-inspired Elf on the Shelf pictures like everyone else you’re connected to on Facebook, I thought I’d try something new this holiday season.

This is not my idea of a good time. Image via fb-troublemakers.com

Inspired by a genuine lack of desire to fill our family advent house with candy (soooo pre-gluten-free 2011), I decided it was time to mix things up a little and stuff each tiny compartment with a good deed. I’ll admit that at first, my children were disappointed with the change, but there’s nothing like the threat of carefully placed, age-inappropriate mom comments on their Instagram feeds to get everyone moving in the same direction.

After working through the 25 days of kindness-inspired tasks for my kids to fulfill, I thought…”Why not extend the invitation to do good to friends, family, and the thousands of three people who still follow my blog?” So if you’re here, right now, reading this post instead of maxing out your credit card buying stuff during the Cyber Monday free shipping window that you can conveniently access on every single other day of the year? You’re in the club.

So here we are at Day One: Pay A Stranger A Compliment. I chose something easy this morning because it’s the simplest things in life that are most meaningful. O.K. I just made that up. In reality, a pyramid scheme full of cash raining down on you from selling fake annuities to the elderly can be pretty great too, but I’m pressed for time.

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It feels good to do good. Plain and simple. So join me on my journey to make someone happy today by paying a stranger a compliment, because it’s fun, easy, and your smile will be as wide as the person you choose to help.

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I, Gemini Girl, have interrupted my non-existent scheduled programming to bring you the 25 Days of Giving Challenge. Please join me in my quest, over the next 25 days, to make people happy. I’ll share stories of giving escapades that will be sure to wow, impress, or at least not annoy anyone who chooses to participate. Each Day of Giving option will be conveniently brought to you via email if you follow this blog. And if you’re already a follower? Pass it onto your friends. If we work together we can change the world, or at least dramatically improve my hit ratio.

This is a Simple Story About Love

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All a mother wants, above and beyond anything else in life, is for her child to be happy. It’s a subliminal inclination fueled by emotion, like the echo of a throb…a primal instinct driven by that first, curious flutter in the womb.

And it never goes away.

My grandmother is no different from any other mother in this respect, even though her youngest was born with an umbilical cord wrapped around her neck. Unable to breathe, my Aunt Micki was rushed to a nurse instead of Grandmother’s open arms while doctors worked to change Micki’s color from a pallid shade of blue to something that looked a little more like life.

Micki survived only to suffer her first seizure when she was nine months old. It was the earliest of many signs that something about her seemed different. Abnormal. Uncommon. Not right.

As months turned into years, “different” transitioned to “retarded,” a term loaded with so much meaning that it overflowed, creating a non-navigable chasm between Micki and other kids her age. Words can be transformative in both good ways and bad, and “retarded” became a life-size label that would shade just about everything she did, starting with the length of the bus she boarded for school.

Both Grandmother and Micki learned to move under a cloak of filtered light that could only throw shadows on the stolen glances and downcast eyes of the world at large. Yet in those everyday moments where growth can’t really be measured, the bond between mother and daughter grew.

Given enough time, life will teach you that the only thing you can count on is change. Yet Micki’s role never has. She is and always will be my grandmother’s constant companion. Not her retarded companion, just a loving daughter and friend.

When my mom left home for college, Micki stayed. When my uncle took the same path seven years later, Micki stayed. When my grandfather died of a heart attack at the age of fifty-one, Micki stayed.

We don’t use the word “retarded” anymore, or at least, we don’t admit it when we do. From my grandmother’s perspective, that word has always misrepresented her youngest child. If you ask, she’ll say Micki came into the world just the way she was supposed to be.

Today, at almost ninety-three, the time-honored light in Grandmother’s eyes is fading. She’s more feeble now than even a few years ago, and bones that used to bend under the weight of life now break. Yet she pauses and lingers longer than most because her remaining purpose sits beside her, quietly holding her hand. Theirs is silent proof that under the right conditions, the narrative of a love story can last forever.

My grandmother will tell you that she’s here today because of youngest child. Not her abnormal, uncommon, retarded child, but her sweet, loving, beautiful daughter.

She’s not a surgeon, or a star, or even that girl from high school you wish you still knew. Yet if you ask Micki if she’s happy, she’ll nod her head and reply, “Yes. Yes I am.”

You don’t have to ask Grandmother the same question. The answer is obvious in the way she looks at her daughter, without bias or pity or doubt. To a mother, a child is simply a child and love is just love. Micki is her life’s greatest gift. We should all be so lucky.

On October 5, 2010, President Obama signed legislation requiring the federal government to replace the term “mental retardation” with “intellectual disability” in many areas of government. This measure, known as Rosa’s Law, strips the terms “mental retardation” and “mentally retarded” from federal health, education, and labor policy. According to the World Health Organization, about 15 percent of the world’s population — or 785 million people — has a significant physical or mental disability. 

For anyone accustomed to my attempts at more humorous, light-hearted posts, I’ll be back next week to talk about either what I found in my neighbor’s trash, or the time I spent in my version of prison, or both. These topics aren’t remotely related, but probably should be.

For The Voices We Can No Longer Hear

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I’ve never really used the word “evil”. I don’t like it. Pronouncing it turns my mouth in the wrong direction and my face into an ugly sneer. The word is as powerful as the actions it’s meant to describe, and it makes me feel uncomfortable. Even the juxtaposition of consonants and vowels is wrong, like it was supposed to be entirely different but somehow came to being in a damaged state. A mutant aberration of the English language that was never meant to exist. A freak of nature. A reject. A heinous mistake.

But as I sit this morning, scrolling through twenty-six names, twenty-six beautiful, innocent faces, and twenty-six life stories that are far too short, it’s the only word that comes to mind. I have the luxury of reflection; the ability to peek at bit pieces and highlights of lives I was never supposed to know. You do too, because we’re not dead. Not today, at least, and not at the hand of something that can’t be imagined without the use of that one terrible word.

When you’re given two or three paragraphs to memorialize the life of your child, where do you begin and how can you stomach that there is now, too early and completely unimagined, an end? Do you mention that she’ll be buried with her favorite stuffed animal, Bluie, because, at the age of six, they were best friends? Do you tell the world about your super-secret code, how you’d squeeze your son’s hand three times to say “I love you” and that his four squeezes back meant “I love you too”? Do you share how much you’ll miss sneaking into her room at night while she’s fast asleep, simply to trace the delicate features of her timeless face and wrap your arms around her warm, tiny body? Do you tell millions of strangers what was on his Christmas list, how he felt sure he’d been a good boy this year and that Santa was on his way? How do you explain, in one hundred words or less, that her life was bookended by an infinite reservoir of your love, and that without her, you’re not even sure what that word means anymore?

I’ve struggled over the past two days to find some kind of meaning in this madness, a tender take-away that will somehow still my mind, break the string of awful images bombarding my brain, and commemorate those lives the world has lost.

But I can’t. The crime is too big, the scope too powerful, the pain too deep, and I am too small.

The only way I can think to honor the innocent women and children the world has lost is to fully embrace what I consider to be opposite of evil. Hope. If evil is a one-word definition of the things most wrong with our world, hope is its antidote. It’s a rare flower that, under pressing odds, fights through the squalor of life and grows. It’s a pervasive, persistent feeling in your heart that somehow overcomes the bile in your gut. It’s the power of love taking its rightful place over the power of hate.

I hope medical technology will soon advance to such a degree that minds gone off the deep end can someday be identified, and if not cured, curbed to the point of stability. I hope that this, and the many other recent horrific incidents involving guns, will give serious pause to the politicians who govern them, and everyone who sells them. I hope that families and friends, but especially the parents of these innocent victims, find the slightest amount of solace in the inescapable ache that has wrapped our national conscience in a dull, gray cloak, and that they can somehow feel the only thing we have to give. Our tears.

No one should have to go through the pain of burying a child. Regardless of age, it’s not a natural state of affairs and, under any circumstances, it isn’t right. But this? This is evil.

“Thinking is man’s only basic virtue, from which all the others proceed. And his basic vice, the source of all his evils, is that nameless act which all of you practice, but struggle never to admit: the act of blanking out, the willful suspension of one’s consciousness, the refusal to think—not blindness, but the refusal to see; not ignorance, but the refusal to know. It is the act of unfocusing your mind and inducing an inner fog to escape the responsibility of judgment—on the unstated premise that a thing will not exist if only you refuse to identify it, that A will not be A so long as you do not pronounce the verdict ‘It is evil.’” Ayn Rand

Charlotte Bacon, 6

Daniel Barden, 7

Rachel Davino, 29

Olivia Engel, 6

Josephine Gay, 7

Ana Marquez-Greene, 6

Dylan Hockley, 6

Dawn Hochsprung, 47

Madeleine Hsu, 6

Catherine Hubbard, 6

Chase Kowalski, 7

Jesse Lewis, 6

James Mattioli, 6

Grace McDonnell, 7

Anne Marie Murphy, 52

Emilie Parker, 6

Jack Pinto, 6

Noah Pozner, 6

Caroline Previdi, 6

Jessica Rekos, 6

Avielle Richman, 6

Lauren Rousseau, 30

Mary Sherlach, 56

Victoria Soto, 27

Benjamin Wheeler, 6

Allison Wyatt, 6