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Ordinary Heroes, Waukesha North students show support for Sandy Hook victims

Locals start letter-writing movement in wake of shooting

Kelsie works on an Ordinary Heroes college writing event with the Facebook page up on laptop.

Kelsie works on an Ordinary Heroes college writing event with the Facebook page up on laptop. Photo By Submitted Photo

Dec. 31, 2012

It was a city they did not know existed.

It was a school they did not know of.

And they were students and teachers they never met.

But as soon as Zach Dunton, Kelsie Wendelberger and Crystal Herrington heard about the recent Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., that killed 20 first-graders and six staff members, they didn't think twice.

"I knew we had to do something," said Dunton, a 2011 Waukesha North High School graduate and a current sophomore at UW-Oshkosh. "We immediately swung into action."

That has been his response often this year.

It was the case after the movie theater massacre in July when a gunman opened fire in Aurora, Colo., at the midnight showing of the Batman film "The Dark Knight Rises."

And it was the case when it happened near their hometown of Waukesha when the Sikh Temple shooting took place a couple weeks later in Oak Creek.

Dunton, with Wendelberger, created the Ordinary Heroes campaign that calls upon ordinary people to become extraordinary in times of need. In downtown Waukesha, they raised more than $3,000 for the Aurora Victim Relief Fund and the Milwaukee Sikh Victim Relief Fund.

After sending out that money this summer, the two said their effort isn't finished. They will return when needed.

Unfortunately, that moment came sooner than anyone would have liked.

Dunton was about to head home for the semester while Wendelberger was getting ready for her final exams the following week at Wheaton College, Wheaton, Ill., when they heard the news. They contacted each other almost immediately to think of how Ordinary Heroes could help the victims' families.

As they chatted over the phone, they realized money was not going to cut it this time.

"Every tragedy is terrible, but this one was so delicate and seemed to affect everyone with it being at an elementary school," Wendelberger said. "We knowpeople were emotional, so we thought putting these emotions on paper would be best."

Through social media, they encouraged their schools and others across the country and area to begin writing personal letters to those impacted by the shooting.

Dunton, who said he and Wendelberger plan on writing personal letters to each family who lost a loved one in the shooting, added: "There's no way to understand what they're experiencing in Connecticut, but we wanted to show them that people from all across the country can come together and be united."

Herrington, a senior at Waukesha North High School, had the same idea.

And just as Dunton and Wendelberger, both 20 years old, were leading their effort through Ordinary Heroes, Herrington began a school-wide effort called "Northstars for Newtown" the Monday after the shooting. She encouraged students to write letters and make donations.

"I just wanted to give everyone a chance to make a difference," Herrington said. "I wanted these letters to be a wave of hope. I felt so sorrowful and almost felt their pain as I wrote mine."

About 200 personal letters are being sent to Sandy Hook and $90 was raised that will allow the children to receive psychological help.

"After watching the news, I decided it was necessary to do something about these tragedies," Herrington said. "I was sick of sitting around and helplessly watching this happen."

She made a poster and a box with a slot on the top and brought it to school and got the approval from Principal Jody Landish.

Wendelberger, who visited her alma mater during this effort, said their contributions are "a perfect example of what Ordinary Heroes is about."

"It's so great what North is doing and that's what we've wanted Ordinary Heroes to be all along," Dunton added. "That's been our vision where others branch off and start their movements and take the initiative."

This was evident as Dunton and Wendelberger said they have heard from people all across the country saying they have been inspired by their movement and are following their lead.

It happened at both of their colleges and other nearby schools.

Before Christmas, Wendelberger said she compiled and boxed up more than 5,000 letters from Wheaton College and thousands of letters from other individuals and groups across the nation.

The two have been getting recognized for their efforts as they have been profiled on all the local TV stations.

Dunton and Wendelberger, however, don't want to take all the credit.

"We might have been the catalysts for it but it really took off when we encouraged others and they got on board," Dunton said before adding, "it's not about us, it's about others being ordinary heroes."

At a glance

Ordinary Heroes and "Northstars for Newtown" encourages others to send a letter to those impacted by the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting:

Sandy Hook Elementary School

12 Dickenson Drive

Sandy Hook, CT 06482

And according to the Sandy Hook Elementary School website, a Sandy Hook Support Fund has been started.

Checks can be mailed to: Sandy Hook School Support Fund

c/o Newtown Savings Bank

39 Main St

Newtown, CT

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