Wendy Hensel, Account Director at Primacy, and her husband Keith were a part of "A Night of Hope and Healing", a free concert held one month after the Sandy Hook tragedy, reached thousands of people at a time when they needed it the most. Wendy Hensel, Account Director at Primacy, and her husband Keith were fortunate to have been a part of it. Here’s how they, along with others, worked to organize an evening of hope in the midst of an unspeakable tragedy.
What inspired you to get involved with A Night of Hope and Healing?
My family lives in Monroe, Connecticut, which neighbors Newtown. The Sandy Hook tragedy hit close to home for us – it’s a very small community and we were all deeply affected. My husband, Keith, who is a graphic designer, was driving to work one morning shortly after the tragedy. He started praying and was inspired with the idea to host a free concert. Faith is very important to Keith and I and his thinking was that everyone is very hurt in our community, they’re searching for help and music may be a way to bring them together and start healing.
Keith cold-called a concert promoter in Philadelphia named Kevin Braun, who works with Generation Exodus, and pitched the idea for a concert. It needed to happen soon, when the community needed it the most. We heard back from Kevin about two days later. Kevin had found seven bands, three speakers, an arena (Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport) and support from Ticketmaster for tickets – all for free. They were all ready to donate their time and rearrange their schedules to make it work.
How quickly did it all come together?
Keith and I began planning for A Night of Hope and Healing right before Christmas. The evening was set for January 15, 2013, so we only had three weeks to pull everything together. Keith finalized the logo and launched the event's Facebook page
within a couple days. Keith pulled together a team of 10 amazing volunteers that helped us organize the entire event – from promotions, to advertising, social media and more. Everything we needed to make it work.
How did you spread the word about the evening?
I contacted local print shops and they graciously offered pro-bono services to print flyers and posters. We were also able to get free billboards donated to us. We recorded several radio spots that were aired locally. We also worked with churches in the community to email their members and we handed out bulletins before service. We gave special tickets to the churches in the Newtown community where we knew families were deeply affected. Social media was the biggest driving factor; we had the team work together on the Facebook page and Twitter account to further spread the word. The most difficult thing I had to do was post to the Facebook pages of each victim’s family to invite them to attend. I had no idea if they would be ready, but we just had to let them know about the evening.
Since the arena needed everyone to have a ticket, Ticketmaster offered the free tickets via their website. We reserved 2,500 for Sandy Hook/Newtown residents to sit up front and center. The rest went to the general public and they were gone so quickly, within 40 minutes.
Who participated in A Night of Hope and Healing?
There were seven Christian artists that performed - Building 429
, Steven Curtis Chapman
, Casting Crowns
, Laura Story
and Chris Tomlin
. They were all so gracious and accommodating to rearrange their schedules to come to Connecticut for the evening. There were also three speakers – Max Lucado (who served as the MC for the evening) along with Mary Beth Chapman and Louie Giglio.
What was that night like?
It is still very hard to describe; it was so much bigger than myself. Victims’ families, Sandy Hook teachers, first responders, Newtown folks and people from the surrounding community attended – over 10,000 people. We heard from Ticketmaster that there was demand for over 40,000 seats. Fortunately we were able to stream it online so ANYONE could watch – estimates came back that over 1.3 million people viewed it on the web from 100 countries (as far away as Thailand).
Some of the music performed was somber, but other songs were very uplifting and hopeful. All the artists gave so much thought to the music they were going to perform and made sure they were the right songs, the right mood, and the right mix for the evening.
One of the most powerful parts was a moment of silence that was held in the middle of the evening, they flashed all of the victims’ names in lights around the arena. It was incredibly moving.
What did you take away from it?
Although it was an incredible amount of work, it was amazing that we pulled it off so quickly after the Sandy Hook tragedy. I felt that it was what the community really needed at the time. We easily could have waited six months or a year to do it, but it was so much more impactful when feelings and emotions were so raw. Keith and I heard so much positive feedback and encouragement after the evening. We felt we fulfilled the purpose of why we planned it in the first place. After a horrible tragedy like Sandy Hook, you never really know what to say or do, but music is incredibly powerful. The fact that we could affect people through music and the message of the evening was so encouraging. I was blessed to have been a part of it.
It changed my husband’s life; he is working with the concert promoter to see if he can bring more events to our area. The evening really showed how passionate the community is and the necessity for messages of hope and healing.
Click here to read more about the event: http://courantblogs.com/sound-check/titans-of-christian-rock-gather-in-bridgeport-for-a-night-of-hope-and-healing/