When I got word of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, I said what people everywhere were saying.
“I can’t even imagine what those families are going through.”
“Who would do such a horrific thing?”
Since that dreary December day, I’ve met one of those families. And they’ve got really interesting responses to both of these commonly said things.
Jennifer and Jeremy, Avielle’s parents, happen to be good friends of a friend. They were visiting the Bay Area recently, and I even got the chance to hug them in person. To see the pain and heartbreak in their eyes. And to get a better understanding of what changed in them that day, and how they plan to dedicate themselves to ensuring other parents don’t have to suffer through what they have.
They’ve started a foundation, named in honor of their daughter — The Avielle Foundation. And before I met them in person, I poured over their website to learn more, which included a video of them from The Katie Couric Show. It ended with Jeremy saying:
“[Something] we experience every day is people saying, ‘I can’t imagine what you’re going through.’ ‘I can’t imagine what you’re feeling.’ But the truth is anybody that’s cared for somebody else, that’s loved somebody else, really can imagine what we’re going through. And they should imagine what we’re going through so we can change things, and prevent senseless violence like this from happening again.”
As I listened to that, I realized that I had been imagining — their loss, their pain, their hearts. In fact, at Little League Opening Ceremonies a couple weeks ago, I saw our mutual friend. My first thought was how exciting it must be for her to watch her little boy starting t-ball. But then, like a kick to the stomach, I thought of all the families in Connecticut who wouldn’t be on a baseball field that day. Those families will forever be missing rites of passage in their children’s lives because of someone who was quite obviously not in his right mind.
That’s why Jennifer and Jeremy — and The Avielle Foundation — are doing everything in their power to answer the questions, “Why would…?” “Who could…?” “How can we prevent…?”
The Avielle Foundation is focused on two vital areas: brain health research and community building.
As scientists themselves, Jennifer and Jeremy realize that the bridge between biology, physiology, and environmental factors must be made to understand what causes violent tendencies in people, as well as help these at-risk individuals receive the treatments they need.
Personally, having learned so very much about the cause and effect of changes in the brain through my dad’s struggle with brain cancer, I think this is a really exciting, groundbreaking way to look at things. And the fact they’re working with world leaders in the field (including neurologists at UCSF, where I believe their experimental approach gave my dad 6 extra years of life), makes it feel like answers are really and truly within reach.
On the community side of things, Jennifer and Jeremy raised Avielle to be accepting of all types of people because they know a strong society is one where every member belongs and contributes. They’ll be working with world-renowned experts in this field as well to foster community and provide tools to help people who are in need of extra social and psychological support.
While there’s so much to the impressive work they’re doing, I think the Foundation’s goals are really well summed up in this portion of “The Scope” from their site:
“With these efforts we hope to: remove stigmas and barriers for people seeking aid; develop the concept of a standard “brain health check-up”; identify behavioral and biochemical diagnostics for early detection of individuals at-risk of violent behaviors and facilitate their responsible use; provide conduits to effective treatments; and strengthen communities, compassion, and respect.”
I truly believe in The Avielle Foundation and am glad to have this opportunity to spread the word about their important work. I hope you’ll consider doing the same. Here’s how you can get involved:
• Read more about The Avielle Foundation on their website
• Like and share their Facebook Page
• Make a donation through PayPal or by check
• Email them with ideas of how you can use your talents and connections to help
You know, when I was talking to Jennifer for the first time, I asked her exactly how to pronounce “Avielle”. She laughed, and very casually said, “Oh Avielle was always correcting people. ‘It’s Ah-Vee-elle’!’ I’d think, ‘Oh gosh, what have we done to her for the rest of her life?’” While we all know her life was far too short, it’s my hope that her sweet name will be known far and wide thanks to her parents’ dedication to helping the world become a better place.