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Parents' 'Coping and Caring' Bus Tours Connecticut

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The Connecticut Parents Union "All Aboard Parent Express" bus took a detour on its planned mission last weekend—one week after a mass shooting occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Originally scheduled to visit children in cities throughout the state to promote literacy on a "'Tis the Season to be Reading" tour, the bus became the "All Aboard—Coping and Caring Parent Express Bus," dedicated to healing and sharing concern, while still giving every child a new book.

"'Coping and Caring' was meant to create community," said Gwen Samuel, president and founder of the Connecticut Parents Union, after the first stops of the bus tour that served hundreds of children, with their parents, grandparents, or older siblings.

"This bus went to some of the poorest cities, and they (the children) have some of the biggest hearts. It was surreal," said Samuel, explaining that grief counselors from Massachusetts and New Hampshire were on the bus, as well as characters from Sesame Street. "We were at a shelter, and those kids and those parents came out and they listened. They were happy to be able to contribute."

The bus tour became a vehicle where kids could freely express themselves about the tragic event. "They can't talk about it in school. I see more adults talking about it," she said.

"We are going to figure it out. We're trying to create a teachable moment. This (healing) is going to take community," she said. "There is nothing that anyone can give that can turn back the hands of time, but if we can learn from it—teach compassion, teach that you can communicate when you're having a tough day. You don't have to keep things inside."

Children and community members from Connecticut delivered handmade sympathy cards made on the bus to the community of Newtown on the morning of Dec. 24, showing support for the families and the heroic first responders.

Samuel said the decision to re-route the intention of the previously scheduled bus tour came in a conversation with fellow Mom Congress alumna Myrdin Thompson and other members of the Congress—delegates who converge on Washington, D.C. each year to discuss education. Samuel has been a Connecticut delegate to the Congress.

The parents union event started out with literacy in mind. "We had just gotten a proclamation from the Governor of Connecticut (about reading), then came the day that changed the lives of millions of people across the country and we weren't going to do it," she said.

In the end, Samuel is grateful that they went ahead with the plans, and hopes this message prevails: "No matter what goes on, we're all in this together," she said.

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