Lauraine Morajda accompanied to Newtown CT and Sandy Hill Elementary School.
Read about Morajda's experiences in Newtown in this Q&A:
How did you get involved with the Comfort Dog ministry?
Being recently retired gave me the opportunity to move in new directions. It has afforded me the time to be of stronger service to my church, St. Matthew’s, and my community as well. I enjoy working with and helping people … hopefully, giving “just a little bit extra” to make things a “little bit better” wherever I can. That’s why the Comfort Dog ministry is a perfect fit for me. I’ve found my niche.
And, Ladel, St. Matthew’s Comfort Dog is amazing. Her name, Ladel, is perfect … she ladles love! There’s no way that you can “not” feel better when you’re around her. You might say that instead of “us” teaching her, Ladel teaches us showing us many things through her unconditional love. She’s a great secret keeper too! She’s always there for you. It’ a blessing for me, personally, to be part of this ministry.
What other service trips have you been on with Comfort Dogs?
Newtown CT was my first out-of-state service call. It was the most moving experience I’ve ever had. Newtown will forever be a part of me and I will be a part of it. I would love to make another trip to see how the students, teachers and families are progressing and let Ladel “ladle a little more love.”
Locally, Ladel and I are usually on hand for Ladel’s Library Day each month at St. Matthew’s school. We “greet” at church … have visited local assisted care facilities … been on hand to help people grieving at funerals … shared moments with “special need classes” … and participated in a special “call” to help comfort grieving students and staff at an Illinois middle school.
Can you share some memories of the dogs/Ladel comforting the residents of Newtown?
We were at Newtown High School and there were three students sitting around Ladel petting her. Another student came over, sitting down a short distance from the group. Ladel looked at her, left the group and sat down next to her. The student began petting Ladel and Ladel then rested her head in the girl’s lap. Ladel sensed the student’s “need”. The girl looked up at Deb and me saying, “I bet she does this to everyone, doesn’t she?” The answer … “no sweetheart … just you … you’re special”.
One of the Sandy Hook classes was asked to draw pictures showing the best part of the day. One little one drew a yellow colored comfort dog in the center of the page. Around the edges of the paper everything was colored black. (The comfort dog was the “light” in the darkness.)
The employees of the Sandy Hook “before/after care” program were amazing. It’s as if the children were their own. You could see them scanning the faces of students as they were brought in for the day. A smile when they felt one child was doing fairly well … a nod of the head to us signaling “need help here” … hugs and tears shared with parents, an arm pulling us to the side telling us “you must come back for ‘after care’ we lost four children from that program … please come” (and we did).
A mother walked into the “before care” program smiling at me. I thought to myself … I know you … but how can that be? The light bulb went on. The mother was one of the “special need” teachers I met the day before at Newtown High School. She had children at Sandy Hook. Imagine her grief experienced on soooooo many levels. We hugged and chatted a bit. Then hugs next for Ladel. New friends. We’d wave passing each other in the hall the rest of the day.
I remember talking to other handlers discussing “how to increase/strengthen our efforts the next day” only to be humbled at the end of the day by hearing a staff member, student or parent say “this has been absolutely invaluable” … “monumental” … “priceless” … “you’ll be here tomorrow ... right?”
There was a special moment when one of the classes at Sandy Hook sang happy birthday to comfort dog Addie who had just turned one that day. It was bittersweet because it appeared to be a normal moment, but was especially cherished because it was Sandy Hook’s first day back to school.
Isaiah, the comfort dog (puppy) in training, simply charmed everyone he met. We’d hear comments … “I came to see the puppy.” … “Where’s the ball of fur?” One of the handlers commented that Isaiah’s name should be changed to “O” because that’s what everyone said when they saw him … “oh!” Smiles ... everyone!
Tell me how the Comfort Dogs made a difference in Newtown?
We were often told that a student came to school because the “dogs” were there. Students, parents and teachers alike said this. Other students said that with the “dogs” at the school they felt like they were at home so they felt safe. They were disappointed when they heard that Friday was to be our last day. But, as you know, that has since changed. The Lutheran Church Charities Comfort Dog program will be in Newtown as long as it is needed.
The children talked to the dogs as if each were a person. New friends. New beginnings. Something to look forward to … a ray of light … hope and a smile … a deep breath … I can do this now said a teacher. While the comfort of hugging or petting a dog may be fleeting, it is, however, the first step over the bridge to healing. You climb a mountain one step at a time. You cross the bridge to healing one step at a time … one hug at a time.
While certainly not everyone in Newtown and Sandy Hook was able to actually meet the comfort dogs, everyone knew they were there. In the evening when the dogs were resting and the handlers would go out for dinner people would thank us for coming to their town. We were there to give a little love and comfort and we were given so much more in return. I feel that the town was really a little overwhelmed not by just our response to their community but by the response across the nation.
How are the people of Newtown, the children and teachers at Sandy Hook doing? Does it seem that the healing process has started?
Grief is different for each child, parent, friend or family member … for everyone. But … I can sincerely say having the comfort dogs in these Connecticut communities helped provide the first step in the healing process. Healing takes time and it often comes in spurts. It can be two steps forward and one step back. But, I know they’ll get there. Our prayers are with them.
I am so very impressed by the Newtown and Sandy Hook Communities themselves. They have all pulled together as if they were one family overall. That’s a beautiful thing to see. They worked 24/7 to get a vacant school painted and set up for the Sandy Hook elementary students. Their efforts are the ones that are priceless.