When Wheaton College sophomore Kelsie Wendelberger and University of Wisconsin Oshkosh student Zack Dunton heard of the deadly school shooting in Newtown, Conn., they knew that Ordinary Heroes had to act.
Wendelberger and Dunton co-founded Ordinary Heroes during the summer of 2012, in the wake of the Aurora movie theater and Oak Creek temple shootings, in order to raise money to support the families of the victims.
Facing the Newtown tragedy, Wendelberger and Dunton prayed about how to best approach the sensitive situation.
“Due to the delicacies of the tragedy, we decided that a more personal route was needed,” Wendelberger said. “This tragedy touched us all on a very personal level.”
To fulfill this intention, Wendelberger and Dunton began a letter-writing campaign, sending out messages to the victims’ families.
Each letter was intended as a “priceless gift for a priceless loss,” Wendelberger said.
Through the combined efforts of Wheaton College, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh and national participation, Ordinary Heroes received over half a million letters from around the country and a few from Puerto Rico.
The letters were originally sent to Wendelberger’s home. However, due to their volume, the address was changed to Wheaton. Wheaton College has sent over 5,000 letters alone.
“Community is often a word thrown around on campus, but this event really gave a new meaning to the word,” Wendelberger said.
The movement continued with other schools, including a high school in Wendelberger’s hometown of Waukesha, which began to form similar letter-writing campaigns to support those in Connecticut.
“Hope overcomes fear in every situation,” Wendelberger said. “The fact that they knew the whole nation was behind them provided that hope.”
Ordinary Heroes used social media and press releases to spread awareness for the campaign.
Wendelberger said some were hesitant to think two college students could make a difference, but as the letters came in, Ordinary Heroes began to receive recognition from various news programs, including K-LOVE Radio, WaukeshaNow and other local morning shows.
Wendelberger also traveled to Waukesha for a press conference during her finals week at college.
“It just shows that (the media is) accepting us as a legitimate organization, which is a big step for us,” Wendelberger said.
Wendelberger and Dunton are currently working towards becoming a 501c3 non-profit organization and have received an offer of help in this process from Habitat for Humanity.
Wendelberger hopes that the legitimacy of Ordinary Heroes will continue to increase and to “give people a means to help.”
The two students are also hoping to start Ordinary Heroes groups on their own campuses for local tragedies.
Wendelberger said they were seeking “people to take initiative and make it their own.”
Last year, by partnering with local businesses, Wendelberger and Dunton raised over $2,000 for the victims of the Aurora shooting, as well as $1,255.55 for those involved in the Oak Creek Sikh Temple shooting. These funds went to counseling for those involved, as well as funeral costs.
Ordinary Heroes is still accepting letters and is currently selling $10 Batman-inspired T-shirts for those looking to be involved.
“A tragedy doesn’t have to happen for … ordinary people to be heroes every day,” Wendelberger said. “When ordinary people come together with the right heart, the result is something extraordinary.”
More information about Ordinary Heroes is available on their Facebook page.
Photo Courtesy of Kelsie Wendelberger
Printed in the January 25, 2013, issue of The Wheaton Record. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.