Tragedy, then hope
January 31, 2013
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- At a time when people felt helpless, a single tweet gave hope.
As JBLM Army spouse Holly Bennett heard the news of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Dec. 14, the tears flowed. She cried for the 20 children between 6 and 7 years of age and six adult staff members killed in the second deadliest school shooting in U.S. history. And she cried for her own two children, 15-year-old Sydney Lane and 11-year-old Allison Bennett, who were away at school.
Soon after the news broke, Holly saw a tweet from NBC News anchor Ann Curry about "20 acts" to her more than 1.3 million Twitter followers.
On Dec. 16 Curry tweeted: "Imagine if we all committed to 20 acts of kindness for each child lost in Newtown. I'm in."
The tweet went viral and 20 acts changed to 26 to match the number of victims at Newtown, including the staff. Curry had started a universal movement of people doing random acts of kindness, and Bennett determined she would help.
The movement wasn't a trend for one day that fizzled out the next. People all over the world are continuing to tweet accounts of their acts, spreading the message and the love each day since -- continuing a month and a half after the incident.
"This was a way for everybody to be involved," Bennett said. "It just came along when people felt helpless."
The movement made its way to JBLM and inspired military families like the Bennetts. When Holly told her daughters about 26 Acts they both wanted to participate. Allison shoveled and salted a neighbor's driveway while the Family's Soldier was deployed to Afghanistan.
"I felt happy that I could help other people and encourage them to do the same thing," Allison said.
Holly tweeted about Allison's first act and received 28 retweets -- including one from Curry.
Sydney used her own Christmas money to buy a gift for a young girl in the same Army Family next door. On the gift she wrote "In honor of Emilie Parker from Newtown, CT."
Sydney and Allison feel a personal connection with the tragedy; they have cousins the same age as the children killed. The girls want to help people, support the school and the families of the victims. Originally from Massachusetts, the family has also lived in Georgia, New York and Nevada during a 17-year Army career.
"When you're a military family your family is everywhere," Holly said.
The family drove down to California for Christmas and along the way gave one homeless man money and another hot coffee and food for his dog. When Sydney fell ill during the holiday and was admitted to a hospital for three days, Holly bought 26 pastries and dropped them off at the pediatric
Allison made a card and sent it to Sandy Hook and Sydney plans to make 26 pottery bowls to send to the school. Holly plans to reach out to JBLM Army wives going through their first deployments and arrange to make meals for their Families.
Sometimes the acts are unplanned, such as when the Bennetts assisted a family in line at a store who didn't have enough money for their order.
"After we do all our 26 acts we just want to keep on doing it," Holly said. "I think I see a lot of people doing that."
Paying it forward
When North Cady received a gift from a second grader at the North Fort Youth Center, he thought it was nice of his student to think of him on Christmas.
The child and youth program assistant opened the gift, a box of chocolates, on his way home and saw a card inside. The card read the second grader was doing 26 acts of kindness in memory of those who died in the shooting and Cady was act No. 2.
"I was blown away," Cady said. "I thought it was going to be a goofy Christmas gift, but it felt a lot more meaningful. It felt like it made me part of some kind of redemption of what had happened. He was doing something that actually literally turned it around and made it a good thing."
Cady had not heard about 26 acts prior to receiving the gift and looked it up online where he discovered it started from a single tweet. He instantly made plans to pay it forward with 26 acts and called his wife to tell her about it.
The Cadys gave a gift basket to their neighbors whose Soldier had just returned from Afghanistan. They also have plans to gift other items and perform random acts of kindness, such as paying for someone's meal behind them at a restaurant drive-thru.
"It just makes so much sense," Cady said. "All of the other shootings that happened, how many have started a movement? It's not 'let's just remember them,' or 'let's change school policies,' but 'let's do kindness in a way that can be easily spread and directly related.' Every death on that day is an evil. Not that you can make up for that evil with goodness, but it's responding to that evil with love."