Benjamin Wheeler Fundraiser Held Over The Weekend In Queens For Slain Sandy Hook Six-Year-Old, Highlight Hollywood EXCLUSIVE News And Interview

As many  Americans have moved on in their workaday lives, the memory of the unfathomable  Dec. 14 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., where 20  kindergartners, along with six teachers and administrators lost their lives, may  be a fading one.  But for a  group of residents of Queens, N.Y., the horrible day hasn’t lost focus or  resonance.  Among the victims that  day was 6-year-old Benjamin Wheeler, whose parents David and Francine moved with  young Ben and his older brother Nate to Newtown from the picturesque New York  City community of Sunnyside. Friends of the family along with other  community-minded residents hosted a benefit for the Wheeler family on Feb. 22 in  what Roger Hitts, one of the event organizers, deemed a rousing  success.

“It was very,  very heartening,” Hitts told Highlight Hollywood exclsuively. “Of course many of David and  Francine’s friends attended, but many, many others who did not know the family  but were moved by their tragedy and their story of perseverance in that face of  that tragedy came and gave of their hearts and wallets as well.”


Hitts said  more than 300 people attended the event in Sunnyside, which raised thousands for  the Wheeler family.BenWheeler-1


“I think many  people may not realize that along with the incredible emotional fallout for the  families who were victimized in this horrific event, there was financial fallout  as well,” Hitts said. “Anything we could do to help ease the burden on this  wonderful, much-loved family was something we really wanted – in some ways  needed – to do.”


One of the  most uplifting aspects of the evening were the more than 100 young children who  attended. They were well-entertained – local children, children of event  organizers Samantha Felixbrod and Jen Busnel among them, applied tattoos and set  up a beauty parlor for nail-painting, much to the delight of the young ones. A  magician entertained the little ones, and local children’s performers Richard  Younger and Allison Tartaglia had the small set dancing to their  music.


“Just to me,  it brought Ben’s spirit closer to all of us, seeing those young children really  having a grand time,” Hitts said. “In some ways, Ben’s spirits lives on through  the children whose parents have felt David and Francine’s loss. It was truly a  beautiful evening.”


And a  well-done one in terms of money. New York City councilman Jimmy Van Bramer  attended, and took the stage to auction off a pair of round-trip plane tickets  to anywhere in the U.S., which his office secured from Jet Blue airlines. Along  with some other raffle and auction items, including a rental of a photo booth,  children’s musical theater classes and sports tickets to New York Mets and New  York Islanders games, brought in winning bids as high as $750.



“I  practically had tears in my eyes seeing how generous people were being,” Hitts  said.   Scores of  local Queens businesses donated food, drink and auction items, making it a real  community-minded affair, Hitts added.   “We are just  one community that was affected by the Sandy Hook tragedy,” Hitts said. “Other  communities are doing wonderful things to help these stricken families as  well.BenWheeler-2


“We show,  time and time again, we can pull together when things seem at their  worst.”


Hitts said  the likes of Tonia Nelson, Rebecca Wilkins, Ty Sullivan, Kim Brown and Trevor  Bowen “just worked overtime to make this event to help the Wheelers a success,”  and noted how proud “the whole community is of David and Francine” for their  work with the Sandy Hook Promise organization that promotes a national dialogue  on gun violence, mental health and school safety.    “They are  brave, compassionate people,” Hitt said.


If others  wish to donate to the Ben Wheeler Fund, established to provide financial relief  for the Wheeler family and for the long-term care of their surviving son Nate,  contributions can be mailed to:


The  Benjamin Wheeler Fund, c/o Newtown Savings Bank, 39 Main St., Newtown, CT 06470  or online to paypal:



Written By: Tommy Lightfoot Garrett
Photographs are Courtesy:  New York City councilman Jimmy Van  Bramer’s office
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