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Students reach out to shattered town

Date

Megan Doherty

Rotary Club of Queanbeyan president Natalie Jupe with letters destined for the children of Newtown, Connecticut.

Rotary Club of Queanbeyan president Natalie Jupe with letters destined for the children of Newtown, Connecticut. Photo: Graham Tidy

Their words are simple and heartfelt.

''I cannot imagine the pain and sorry which you must feel.''

''No family or person deserves to feel the pain you feel and no child deserves this fate. I wish I could change what happened.''

''When I heard about this I felt a feeling that I have never felt before and it was deep sorrow.''

These are the words of students from Queanbeyan High School who have reached out to the community of the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, by writing them letters of support in a project which started in South Australia on Monday night and has already spread to Queanbeyan thanks to the reach of Rotary.

Damian Leach, the community services director for the Rotary Club of Campbelltown in Adelaide, is co-ordinating the Letters of Love project, which was sparked by his 11-year-old daughter Ashlee asking him about the Newtown massacre in which 28 people were shot dead last week, including 20 children and six staff members of the local school.

''I told her when something like this happens, the first thing you should ask is 'What can I do to help?','' Mr Leach said.

Ashlee's response was to reach out to the surviving children.

''I feel a bit helpless being here in Adelaide, Australia, but I thought about it, and decided I wanted to write a letter to a girl my age that survived this horrific experience,'' she said, on the Letters of Love Facebook page.

The letters will generally be sent between children the same age. Letters from older children will be directed to other children in the community via the local Rotary club. Mr Leach hopes each child at Sandy Hook Elementary will receive at least two letters and that some pen pal relationships may develop.

Queanbeyan is the first NSW community to join the project, with Rotary Club of Queanbeyan president Natalie Jupe being approached by Mr Leach to help. Miss Jupe said she was willing to collect letters to send to Newtown from any school in the region.

''We wanted to send our sympathy in a bit of a different way by reaching out to the community, especially the children,'' she said.

The letters from Queanbeyan High are beautifully written in their simplicity.

One year 9 girl wrote: ''You may never meet me but I believe that you and your families are strong enough to get through this and live a happy life. You are surrounded by angels for the rest of your lives.''

A year 8 student wrote: ''When I heard about it on the news my mind immediately went to the families of the people who are busy preparing for Christmas that are now preparing funerals. You don't deserve to go through this. No one does. You are in our prayers.''

Ashlee raised more than $2000 for the victims of the Pakistan floods in 2010 and helped her father in the Shoeboxes of Love project which sent shoeboxes of personal items to the victims of the Brisbane floods in January last year.

''I think as parents the best thing we can do is foster a thought process where if children see a need, they think 'What can I do to help?','' Mr Leach, 31, said.

''If we foster a generation of children who do that, we're going to have adults who are more empathetic and compassionate.''

More details are at www.facebook.com/shslettersoflove.

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