As Erin Clarke packed up the things in her Newtown, CT home last December, preparing for a move to Boston and a job at ROCA in Chelsea, she had no idea that she would be sent off from her hometown with monumental sadness.
In fact, the newest ROCA Redevelopment Associate and chief planner for next week’s Breakfast Fundraiser in South Boston, had been on the schedule as a possible substitute teacher at Sandy Hood Elementary on Dec. 14 – the day that Adam Lanza stormed into the school and killed numerous children and faculty members.
Clarke grew up in Newtown, attended the schools there, and had substituted throughout the school district prior to landing the ROCA job, including several days at Sandy Hook.
Dec. 14th was her last day to be available for substitute teaching.
Remarkably, no one called in sick, so she was spared a day’s work that could have ended her life.
“That day was actually my last day on the clock for Newtown Schools before I left to start working at ROCA on Dec. 17,” said Clarke. “I could have potentially been called in that day. The way it happened was I didn’t get a call that morning, so I went to my other job instead. I got a text from a friend of mine who knew that I subbed at that school. She wanted to know if I was alright. That’s when I learned what happened. My very first thought was that I very easily could have been called in to Sandy Hook that day. It definitely put things in perspective.”
Clarke grew up in Newtown and attended the schools there – though she didn’t attend Sandy Hook Elementary. That said, the violence in her hometown, and her former workplace, left her with a heavy heart as she travelled to Boston.
“It was really hard to leave amidst all that,” she said. “As hard as the whole situation was, there was a certain level of comfort being in my community to help deal with it. Coming to Boston that Sunday really was hard. When I got here, though, I was able to stay with some friends from Newtown and we all banded together. That helped a lot.”
Additionally, on her first day of work, her new boss – Molly Baldwin – and her co-workers were absolutely understanding and let her go at her own pace. Naturally, Clarke said she went through a period of self-realization.
“It kind of makes you think and re-think everything,” she said. “That day wasn’t any different than any other day in Newtown. It was so unexpected, especially because you don’t expect anything like that to happen in a small town like Newtown. It changes how you see life and how quickly things can change and how little control we have over the day-to-day occurrences.”
Right off the bat, Clarke used her spare time and her talents as an organizer to do what she does best – build a fundraiser.
In rather quick time, she and some friends from Newtown were able to organize a fundraiser at Fenway Park called ‘Love is Louder than Violence: A Night for Newtown.’
It became a major event very quickly, with Gov. Deval Patrick, Boston Mayor Tom Menino, and House Speaker Bob DeLeo attending. All the proceeds went to help the recovery efforts in Newtown.
At the same time, during her working day, Clarke was head on into organizing ROCA’s annual breakfast fund-raiser – which will take place on Monday, April 22, at the Seaport Hotel on South Boston’s Waterfront. The breakfast will mark the 25th Anniversary of ROCA’s anti-violence message and dedication to at-risk youth.
“What we do here at ROCA is similar to what we were stressing with our Newtown efforts, an anti-violence message,” said Clarke. “It definitely is working on a similar theme.”
One new twist, Clarke said, is that each table at the breakfast will have one person from ROCA’s youth programs placed amongst the guests. That participant will be charged with sharing their story with the other guests at the table. That firsthand experience, Clarke said, would be invaluable for communicating just what ROCA does and its effectiveness.
So far, the breakfast has already raised nearly $400,000 and is by far the most successful effort in the organization’s 25 years of existence. That generosity is expected to continue through April 22nd, and ROCA officials have pinned some of that success on their new co-worker from Newtown.
“In the development department here, things move rapidly, but Erin has been a great anchor to help us stay focused,” said John Ward of ROCA. “That’s been critical for us because we’re moving so fast and growing so rapidly. She is great at slowing people down and making sure the fundamentals are in place. She’s been a great addition.”