On Sunday, legendary rocker John Cafferty is headlining a concert to honor slain Sandy Hook first-grader Jesse Lewis

By KC Baker
June 27, 2019 05:54 PM
Jesse Lewis
courtesy Scarlett Lewis

Jesse Lewis would have turned 13 on Sunday if he hadn’t been fatally shot as a first grader at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.

Jesse was 6 when he and 19 other children and 6 adults were killed by a gunman who opened fire at the school in Newtown, Connecticut.

His parents, Scarlett Lewis and Neil Heslin, miss the energetic little boy who loved playing soccer like his big brother, snuggling with his mom and rubbing dirt on his face while helping his dad fix his truck to show that he worked hard.

“You laugh at the good memories,” says Heslin. “But it’s also heart-wrenching. He’s now been gone longer than we had him with us.”

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The pain of losing a child “never goes away,” says Lewis.

To help ensure that no other parents lose their children to violence, Lewis created the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement, a social and emotional learning curriculum that gives kids (and adults) the tools to manage emotions, be positive, deal with adversity and enjoy healthy relationships.

Scarlett Lewis
Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement

Launched six years ago, the downloadable program is now taught in all 50 states and in 80 countries — in schools, homes and places of employment.

“The whole goal of this is to be empowered by choosing love in every situation,” says Lewis. “Can you imagine a world where everyone did that?”

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On Sunday, Lewis and Heslin are hosting the biggest fundraiser ever for the nonprofit in honor of Jesse’s 13th birthday – the Choose Love ‘Hearts on Fire’ Benefit Concert, headlined by John Cafferty & the Beaver Brown Band.

Starting at 3 p.m. Sunday, the event will offer food and dancing. The aim is for people to “have a lot of fun, which is the message Jesse left for his brother the day he died,” says Lewis.

Neil Heslin and Jesse Lewis
Courtesy Neil Heslin

Cafferty is more than happy to help. “People’s hearts were broken all over the country when the Sandy Hook shooting took place,” he says. “And they continue to be broken by these incidents.”

The Rhode Island-based rocker learned about the program from his wife, Terry Lee Cafferty, who is an ambassador for the nonprofit.

John Cafferty & The Beaver Brown Band
Bobby Bank/Getty

“The Sandy Hook shooting made you want to do something to make sure this never happens again,” he says. “But what can you do? Well, Scarlett came up with a method and it’s a very good one.”

So good — and so effective, studies show, that in July, New Hampshire’s governor implemented the curriculum as part of a statewide security plan.

The program works, says Lewis, because it gets to the heart of the issue: the unresolved anger and other negative feelings can lead to extreme violence.

“The reaction to school shootings is usually to focus on external safety measures,” says Lewis. “None of them address why a child would harm themselves or others. Social and emotional learning reduces and prevents violence, suicide, and substance abuse.”

While Cafferty describes himself as “just an old rock and roller,” he’s also a dad. “As parents, we want our kids to be healthy, happy and safe,” he says.

For ticket information, visit JesseLewisChooseLove.org.

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