Angel wings for Newtown
Moms reach out as part of a universal family bound by love for their children
Dec. 14 began like any other, filled with all the hurries and worries of the pre-Christmas rush -- until the holiday music, weekday talk shows and Internet home pages were interrupted by reports of the second deadliest shooting in United States history.
The details of the story were horrifying: 20 children between the ages of 6 and 7, and six adult women, were shot by one young man carrying three semiautomatic firearms within the confines of a small elementary school in a quiet New York suburb.
Newtown, Conn., and Sandy Hook Elementary are thousands of miles from Pleasanton, Calif., and its nine elementary schools, but that Friday morning, we all became neighbors collectively mourning the tragic and senseless loss of lives.
Ali Sekany-Krebs remembers working at her kitchen table that morning, processing Christmas orders for her jewelry company, POSH Mommy.
"I don't have the television on when I am working," she says, "but I saw something come up on Facebook about a shooting. I didn't pay attention at first, but more and more postings were appearing and finally I turned on the TV to find out what was happening."
Like the rest of the world, Ali was horrified by what she saw.
"The number of children killed was overwhelming. The idea of those teachers and those kids, being shot down like that in classrooms," she says, shaking her head at the memory. "I had just dropped my kids off at school. Tanner and Olivia are 8 and 6 years old; I wanted to go pick them up right then."
Resisting the impulse to gather her children, Ali called her husband, Brian, and told him the details of the shootings and how devastated she felt for the Newtown families.
"He told me maybe I should send them angel wing necklaces," recalls Ali. "I told him that it just seemed too trivial -- sending a necklace to someone whose child had just been killed. I didn't know if that would be appropriate."
Jewelry that honors the relationship between mothers and their children is the heart and soul of Ali's business, so it was only natural that Brian's first response was to suggest a piece of jewelry might comfort the Sandy Hook moms.
"Necklaces are what we do," Ali explains. "We give them to people we love, and they are the business I run every day. Birthdays, Mother's Days, baby showers, christenings; moms and kids are what we think about."
Featuring children's names, birthstones and birth dates on a variety of unique and beautiful charms, Ali's POSH Mommy designs are a celebration of parenting, keeping children next to their mother's hearts.
Ali had already recognized that her jewelry could serve as a way to acknowledge other significant relationships in people's lives. Not long before the Newtown tragedy, Ali designed a piece of jewelry for a friend who had recently lost her sister.
"I put both of their names on a loop and paired it with the angel wing charm. Until then, I hadn't really thought about the significance the wings could hold for those who had lost a loved one. But it was perfect for my friend; she loved her necklace and how it connected her with her sister's memory."
Still uncomfortable with sending jewelry to the Newtown families, Ali put the idea aside until she started going through her email the next week.
"A client in Connecticut wrote to me, explaining that she was related to one of the Newtown families, asking if there was anything I could do. I started looking through my customers' addresses and I realized I had two clients in Newtown."
Though Ali's clients were not related to the families involved in the shooting, Ali says she realized that her business really has created special relationships and given her the opportunity to share with others.
"POSH Mommy changed our lives and let me be successful in something that I love to do. When I got that email from someone so close to the situation, reaching out for a way to help them heal, I realized that maybe this was a way for us to give something back."
Ali has a lot of help running her business. Twenty-two full time employees run the assembly lines in Louisiana that produce her POSH designs while nine employees help manage her website, press and marketing here in California. But Ali personally maintains her Facebook page, updating it daily with news about family, her new jewelry line, Be Posh, and any interesting POSH Mommy news she wants to share with the 10,000 "friends" who like her site.
When Ali posted her intention to send the angel wing necklaces to Connecticut, she was not at all surprised by the response, though she was very touched.
"My network is mostly moms -- friends, family and customers joined by the love we have for our kids. When I posted on Facebook that I was going to send the necklaces to Newtown, immediately everyone wanted to be involved."
Within a few days the inquiries were so overwhelming Ali set up a link that would allow people to donate, or sponsor, one of the 26 necklaces that would eventually be sent to the victims' families.
"I was fully prepared to do this on my own," Ali says. "But what I realized is that we are all looking for a way to show our support for these families. To let them know that we are thinking of them, praying for them, wishing them peace in spite of their sadness. We can't really make anything better, but maybe knowing so many people care, so many people are grieving with them, even all the way in California, maybe that can bring them some comfort."
Sending a gift of love and support was not an easy task.
"It was a huge job, organizing the donations, figuring out the addresses, making up the packages," explains Ali. "And it was right before Christmas, our busiest time of the year. I asked a friend, Dawn Mendoza, to take it on, and she made it her full time job to get it all done. It really couldn't have happened without her."
Ali's kids were happy to become part of the project, too, helping to pack and load the boxes that would eventually be mailed to Newtown.
"At first we were in a hurry to get them out as quickly as possible," Ali says. "Then we realized the families had so much in front of them, funerals and memorial services; we knew letting a little time pass would be OK."
The packages for the families of the 20 children were mailed out in late January, the families of the six school faculty were mailed this week. Ali has not received any responses from the families, but she doesn't expect to.
"I didn't include my card, or any addresses. Thank yous are unnecessary; this is about what we can do for them," she says.
Each family's box contains a necklace, a letter from POSH Mommy, an angel photo album donated by a company that heard about the project, and letters of condolence written by donors who hope those Connecticut families know they are not strangers -- they are part of a larger, universal family bound by love for their children and an inability to understand an inconceivable tragedy like this.
The donations POSH Mommy received far exceeded the cost of producing the necklaces.
"We looked at many ways we could use the rest of the money -- many of the families have favorite charities listed and we thought about giving a bit to each one," says Ali. "But we decided it would mean the most and make the most impact if we gave the money to one charity all the families supported, so we will be donating between $4,000 and $5,000 to the United Way's Sandy Hook School Support Fund."
The Newtown community is still deciding what to do with Sandy Hook Elementary, which is closed with the students attending class at a middle school in a neighboring town. Whether it will be best for the children if the school is remodeled or torn down has yet to be decided. For those families affected by the shootings, and maybe for everyone who has ever sent their kids to school without a second thought for their safety, it will be a long time before any day is ordinary again.
"I think about those families all the time," says Ali. "I have no face to picture, but they are all moms like me. They probably know everyone is shocked and wants to support them.
"Hopefully these necklaces can be a reminder of that, and maybe bring a smile to their lives."
"We can't really make anything better, but maybe knowing so many people care, so many people are grieving with them, even all the way in California, maybe that can bring them some comfort."
Ali Sekany-Krebs, POSH Mommy