Posted Online: Jan. 05, 2013, 6:10 am

Newtown vigil relies on Rotary connection

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By Leon Lagerstam, llagerstam@qconline.com

Photo:
Jillian Wilson
ROCK ISLAND -- Dialing up a Rotary connection will help Quad-Citians share thoughts and prayers for people in Newtown, Conn., a month after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Local Rotary Clubs are banding together to sponsor a Vigil for Newtown at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 14, at Modern Woodmen Park, 209 S. Gaines St., Davenport.

"We do not want this tragedy to be forgotten, and we designated Jan. 14, exactly one month since the shooting, as our local day of tribute," Rock Island Rotary Club member Mike Locander said.

"We want to send the message to Newtown that we're thinking of them, grieving with them, praying for them and telling them that they are not alone," said club colleague Jillian Wilson, identified by Mr. Locander as "the main person organizing the event."

Ms. Wilson recently moved to the Quad-Cities from Westchester, N.Y., to become a reporter for WHBF-Channel 4 television."My cousins live a couple towns away from Newtown," she said.

Organizing the vigil has helped her feel reconnected to the area and more connected to her new home here.

"I felt disconnected from the northeast and, like everyone else, was watching everything on the news, but I wanted to do something here that would make a difference and thought what would be a better way of doing a memorial event than going through the Rotarians who are all about giving and doing," Ms. Wilson said.

"I moved out here not knowing anyone and thought Rotary would be a great way to get to know people," she said.

Although she's only belonged to the club for two months and is in the midst of an initiation period, she was "blown away" by the response and support she got from Rock Island Rotary Club members.

Club leaders reached out to the Bettendorf Rotary, which quickly agreed to join the effort. Other local clubs also have jumped on board, Ms. Wilson and Mr. Locander said.

"We've also reached out to the Rotary Club in Newtown," Ms. Wilson said.

"Newtown Rotary has established a 501(c)3 fund that will go directly to those impacted and also will lead to scholarships named for each of the victims," according to a news release Mr. Locander shared.

For Information about the Newtown Rotary Club fund, visit bettendorfrotary.com/sandy-hook-elementary and facebook.com/bettendorfrotary.

Details of the vigil still are being worked out, Ms. Wilson said."We're hoping for as many people in the Quad-Cities as possible and want to see at least 1,000 people come to Modern Woodmen Park that night.

"We're also in the process of talking to different priests, rabbis and other religious leaders to do several different prayers. We're hoping for a true interfaith vigil and hope to see Catholic, Jewish, Sikh, Muslim or members of any faith, it doesn't matter," she said.

Ms. Wilson also hopes to arrange for some Gospel singing groups or youth choirs to perform.

"We are also looking at creating a banner that can be signed with messages from the Quad-Cities to send to their area with our positive messages of hope," Mr. Locander said. "Although we cannot physically provide support to the families and victims of this tragedy, the nation has embraced them in kindred spirit to pay our respects. Many of us feel that we must do something to support them and each other."

Ms. Wilson told her family out east about the plans during a Christmas Day visit."My family thought it was such a great idea," she said.

The idea of holding it at a minor league baseball field also impressed family and friends, she said.

"And what it has been doing for me is making me feel connected to them and to people here," Ms. Wilson said, "and that together we can make a difference."