Anathea Simpkins, the Director of Product Management at Sylvan Learning, was holding her then-11-month-old son while watching news coverage of the Sandy Hook massacre.
“Like everyone around the world who heard about the Sandy Hook massacre, I was completely heartbroken and in shock and angry after it happened,” she said.
Last year, her frustration got to a point where she realized she couldn’t do everything to solve all of the world’s problems, but she could do something.
“I decided one day that my focus is going to be on children,” she said.
This made sense for Simpkins. She’s worked in education for 20 years, and “it’s where my heart and soul is.”
Today, Simpkins is a Sandy Hook Promise Leader. It’s a volunteer role, something she does on her own time apart from her job at Sylvan Learning, and in this role she and Sandy Hook Promise’s network of volunteers across the country help spread the word about the organization and its programs across communities.
Simpkins, who lives in New York City, visits local schools in Brooklyn’s District 14 and talks about the organization and ways to prevent gun violence to children and local community leaders.
“The great thing about Sandy Hook Promise is that it’s completely, 100 percent focused on fighting gun violence before it starts,” she said. “It’s not a political organization. I think we can all agree that we don’t want these things to happen again.”
Simpkins first got involved with Sandy Hook Promise by donating to the organization. Last year, she received an email from the organization saying that they had numbers for the New York City marathon.
She’d never run a marathon before, but she couldn’t resist the opportunity to raise money for Sandy Hook Promise, and so she applied. Her application was accepted, and she immediately started training. Simpkins ended up raising $5,500 for Sandy Hook Promise.
While training for the marathon, Simpkins signed up to be a Sandy Hook Promise Leader, and as she was getting closer to the marathon date, her son started kindergarten in Brooklyn’s District 14 and Simpkins joined the school leadership team. She introduced Sandy Hook Promise to her son’s principal and assistant principal “and they embraced it with open arms,” she said. District 14 was the first one in New York City to get involved with Sandy Hook Promise thanks to her efforts.
Sandy Hook Promise praised Simpkins and her volunteer work with the program.
“Anathea is a strong Promise Leader who is always willing to help Sandy Hook Promise no matter the task,” Judith Coffey, the Promise Leader Coordinator for Sandy Hook Promise said. “She is a great ambassador for the organization and has been instrumental in helping roll out Sandy Hook Promise's programs in NYC schools.”
Sandy Hook Promise has different so-called “Know the Signs” programs, and Simpkins specifically spreads the word on two of them: Start With Hello and Say Something.
Start With Hello focuses on inclusiveness and community, while Say Something teaches young people to recognize the early signs of gun violence and report that behavior to a trusted adult, Simpkins said.
“These are all programs I think people can get behind,” Simpkins said.
Coffey noted that volunteers with backgrounds like Simpkins’ bring a lot of knowledge to the initiative.
“Promise Leaders who have a background with working with children understand the complexities of what it’s like for students day in and day out at school,” Coffey said. “They see the students who are isolated and bullied and can not only apply the training under the Know the Signs programs but can advocate for them on a greater level to expand SHP’s reach.”
Simpkins’ son’s school had a Start With Hello Week in May. Simpkins spoke with children in grades pre-K through fifth grade and the students had theme-based activities and completed projects throughout the week. Local community leaders, including a representative from New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office, came to observe the activities.
The activities will continue this year, and Simpkins will play a main role in spreading its mission. Start With Hello, for one, will be implemented across the district. Simpkins has also been asked to represent Sandy Hook Promise on a local panel about gun violence.
“I’m really honored that they asked me,” she said. “I’m trying to spread information on the program in any way I can in the community. My dream is that we get the programs adopted citywide.”
Simpkins ran the New York City marathon again this year on November 4 and raised $4,500. She will continue raising money through the end of the year to see if she can match the $5,500 she raised last year.
“It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life, and when I left our cheer zone, I hugged Mark Barden and his wife, Jackie, who lost their son at Sandy Hook, and I vowed that I’d run the marathon for them as along as I’m physically able” she said of running the marathon in 2017. And this year’s experience was also extremely meaningful for Simpkins, as well.
“I ran the entire race with two of my teammates,” Simpkins said. “We stuck together from the start to finish, as a team who were on a mission.
During her involvement with Sandy Hook Promise, Simpkins met Nicole Hockley, the organization’s co-founder and co-managing director, and one of the parents who lost a child in the shooting.
“It’s what continues to inspire my commitment to working on behalf of Sandy Hook Promise to prevent something like Sandy Hook from happening again. There is nothing like looking into the eyes of someone who has lost a child so young and so violently,” Simpkins said. “It’s such an amazing community of people, all committed to helping kids.”