Students Collecting Messages of Gratitude for Boston’s First Responders

Austin Dodd '15 (CLAS), left, and Justis Lopez '14 (ED) write notes to Boston area first responders at the Student Union. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

Austin Dodd ’15 (CLAS), left, and Justis Lopez ’14 (ED) write notes to Boston area first responders at the Student Union. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

When Austin Dodd ’15 (CLAS) learned of Monday’s gruesome attack on Boylston Street in Boston, he quickly checked Facebook to ensure that his friends – one running the race, and another standing somewhere among the throng of spectators – were safe.

Though relieved to find a Facebook post assuring him they were both out of harm’s way, he could not forget the video footage he had witnessed on CNN, including the images of people running to one another’s aid in the moments immediately following the explosions. Later that night, he found himself back online, reading through the many messages posted in the aftermath by his other friends, all expressing hope, solidarity, and support for the city of Boston.

“Right now, what people need to do is spread the love and spread the hope, because that’s the only thing that can fight hate,” says Dodd, a native of Putnam, Conn. “We’ve got to do something positive.”

By the time he went to bed, Dodd knew that, first thing in the morning, he would find a way to help.

Early Tuesday, he sat down with two friends – Ben Smith ’15 (CLAS) and Justis Lopez ’14 (ED) – to come up with a plan. The three students, who had become friends through their involvement in UConn’s Leadership Learning Community, decided to launch an effort they have named “UConn for Boston: Thanking Heroes.” With the help of the University’s Office of Leadership Programs, they are setting out to collect as many personal messages of hope, gratitude, and support as possible to share with the Boston tragedy’s first responders.

“Why don’t we try to do something tangible that will make a difference for people instead of Facebook messages they may never see in their life?” Dodd says. “Our main focus is to let the people up in Boston know that we have all seen their courageous actions, the heroic things they’ve done.”

At month’s end, the three students will gather every message received, and together will drive them up to Boston to deliver them personally at City Hall, which will assist in distributing the messages to the police officers, emergency medical personnel, and many others who responded in the wake of the attack.

‘We’ve got to do something positive’
On Monday, April 22, and Monday, April 29, Dodd, Smith, and Lopez, along with other UConn students and staff, will be stationed throughout the day at a table in the main walkway of the Student Union on the Storrs campus, inviting anyone to stop by between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. to write a personal message for the people of Boston. “You can write longer letters, or literally just write something simple that says, ‘UConn loves Boston’ or ‘UConn is here for Boston,’ and sign your name. Just making it personal is what matters,” Dodd says.

Their effort is not limited to the University community. UConn for Boston invites anyone who would like to send a personal message of thanks and support to visit s.uconn.edu/ufb, where online submissions will also be accepted. Numerous student organizations across campus will be hosting collection boxes for messages as well.

“Not everyone in college can donate a large sum of money to help,” Dodd says, “so this is one way that people can do something meaningful. Although it might not help with medical funds, the people of Boston will still know that we are thinking about them and that we’re here for them. We want to be able to provide the sense of hope that people really need during a time like this.”

Members of the University community who would like to start a collection for UConn for Boston messages in their residence halls, buildings, or departments are invited to do so; please reach out to Dodd at austin.dodd@uconn.edu so that all messages can be gathered at month’s end.  For more information about UConn for Boston, visit UConn for Boston’s Facebook event page.