Shared love of animals prompts girl to raise $7K for Newtown victim's sanctuary
Six-year-old Catherine Violet Hubbard loved animals and once told her family she would care for them one day. She even made personal business cards for herself that read, "Catherine's Animal Shelter, Catherine Hubbard: Care Taker."
The first-grader, however, did not live long enough to fulfill that dream. Catherine was one of the 26 victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown on Dec. 14, 2012.
Months after the tragedy, her parents decided they would create a state-of-the-art safe heaven for animals to foster their daughter's dream. Since they began seeking support for the project, the enormous response has generated more than $800,000 in donations.
One of the latest donations came from a New Canaan girl who shares Catherine's love for animals.
Reagan Bajus, a 10-year-old fifth-grader at Greenwich Academy and former New Canaan Country School student, raised nearly $7,000 in donations for the sanctuary through a lemonade stand and baked goods sale she organized outside her house on Labor Day.
"I just really, really love animals a lot," she said. "Ever since I was little ... I just always had a connection with animals.
"I learned that (Catherine) really wanted to build this animal sanctuary and I wanted to help."
Along with 10 adults and about 10 other children, Reagan used the circular drive in front of her house as the setting for a "drive-through" fundraiser, which turned out to be more successful than her family -- or Catherine's family -- expected.
"It was a wonderful gesture with beautiful results," Catherine's mother, Jennifer Hubbard, said. "It's an example of the love, the support and the compassion that is all around all of us."
Hubbard said she and her husband, Matthew, were "thrilled" that a girl so young would take her time to support their cause. "Anything that's born out of love, you just can't put a price tag on it," she said.
Scheduled to be completed by 2016, the Catherine Violet Hubbard Animal Sanctuary will provide adoptive services for companion animals, refuge for farm animals, native wildlife rescue and release services. In July, the state House of Representatives and Senate voted to transfer 34 acres of land in Newtown to the future sanctuary.
Reagan's mother, Emily Bajus, said "an enormous pile of money" and some "exceedingly generous checks" fell out of the donation box when the baked goods sale was over. The event alone raised $5,700, but friends continued kept making donations afterwards.
Despite her age, the fundraiser for the animal sanctuary was not Reagan's first charitable effort to help an animal organization.
For her ninth birthday, she asked her guests that, in lieu of gifts, they donate to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals instead, a practice that has become a tradition, Emily Bajus said.
This summer, while doing research on other animal charities, Reagan learned about Catherine's animal sanctuary.
Reagan's parents said they were proud to see her desire to make a difference.
"It's absolutely wonderful," Emily Bajus said. "We feel it to be a necessity to raise Reagan with a sense of charity. But not just being charitable to society as a whole, but being kind and really having a lot of empathy."
Emily Bajus said she was really glad when Reagan decided to support a project that would honor a Newtown victim.
"I remember driving up to Sandy Hook afterwards because I just wanted to do something, but there were so many people there and I'm sure everybody wanted to do something," Emily Bajus said. "But what can you do?"
Reagan's idea, therefore, helped Emily Bajus realize that the sanctuary would be Catherine's dream "living through."
"It's really going to be an amazing facility," Emily Bajus said. "Catherine's dream is going to be realized at such an incredible scale."
Hubbard said she hopes the facility becomes a place for the community to come together, "a place for healing and compassion for both animals and people alike."
As for how the family discussed the Newtown tragedy to their child, Reagan's father said they put "a lot of thought" on how to explain the tragedy.
"In a world where media is instantaneous, you really can't shelter your kids from what's happening," John Bajus said. "The question is, how do you synthesize what's happening into a way that a child can understand it and relate to it?"
John Bajus said it was "hopeful" to see a generous character "take root" at Reagan's age.
"When you have a world that is very angry, for lots of different reasons right now, any time you can heal or bring a community together, it's a good thing," John Bajus said. "What Reagan did was inspire her friends to do more. We heard from many of the parents that they got excited about it."
The baked goods sale likely was one of many charitable endeavors Reagan will support in the future. Emily Bajus said that while the family was squeezing 1,000 lemons and baking about 600 cookies for the sanctuary fundraiser, Reagan looked at her and said, "Don't worry, mom, it's going to be easier next year."
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