Hearts on Fire benefit spreads love in Danbury

When Scarlett Lewis lost her six-year-old son, Jesse, in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, she decided to dedicate her life to making something positive out of that indescribable tragedy that also took the lives of 19 classmates and six educators.

“I wanted to be part of the solution, because I knew that what happened to Jesse was 100 percent preventable,” said Lewis. “I knew that if the shooter had had the skills and tools to give and receive nurturing, healing love, because, by the way, they’re not innate within us, the tragedy would never have happened. And there is a way, an easy way, actually to teach kids. It’s called social and emotional learning. So, I’ve literally dedicated my life to offering a free Social and Emotional Learning program.”
The initiative is called The Jesse Lewis Choose Love Enrichment Program, a free, pre-K through 12th grade, evidence-based program. According to the program’s website, the mission is “to ensure that every child has access to Social and Emotional Learning in their classrooms and to help facilitate this teaching within their families, schools and communities.”
On June 30, the Hearts on Fire benefit concert celebrates the life of Jesse Lewis, who would have turned 13 on that day, while raising awareness for The Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement at the Ives Concert Park in Danbury. John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band will headline the event, which also features singer-songwriter Doug Allen, The Spadtastics, and Denise Daniels singing the “National Anthem.” The benefit begins at 3 p.m. and includes food trucks, kids’ activities, and a raffle.

For East Coast rock legend John Cafferty, the show will be a homecoming of sorts. “We were practically the house band at Toad’s Place in New Haven,” said John. “We played all over Connecticut, and New Haven was like a home away from home for us. When we played there, we got pretty popular, pretty quickly, and that led us to playing New York and being discovered.”
That discovery included having a hit single included in the “Eddie & The Cruisers Motion Picture Soundtrack” in the ’80s. “On the Dark Side” held the number-one position on the Billboard Rock charts and the MTV video charts for five consecutive weeks, and the album sold over 3 million copies. “Tough All Over” was another chart topper, and John’s solo track, “Hearts on Fire,” was featured in the Sylvester Stallone film “Rocky IV.” It’s one of 35 songs he’s had in major motion pictures over the years. In 2012, John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band were inducted into the Rhode Island Music Hall Of Fame.
“The style of rock and roll that we play is based on ’50s and ’60s R&B with a lot of New York City influence,” he explained. “The basic nature of that style is just very uplifting. It did that for me when I was a young man, and it still does that now. I know that if I do my job right, and I take my ego out of it, I just surrender to let the music do the job, and it does that.”

John’s wife, Terry Lee Cafferty, has become good friends with Lewis over the years. The two met when Lewis made a “Choose Love” presentation at a child-care center in Shelton owned by Terry Lee’s sister, Laura Lipinsky, called Wonder Years Learning Center.
“Terry Lee drove down from Rhode Island, listened to my presentation, and is now one of my strongest ambassadors,” said Lewis. “I do have ambassadors all over the country, in different states that volunteer to help spread the message, but Terry Lee has taken it to the next level. And her husband has gotten on board in helping the promotion, obviously, by doing this benefit. I feel like they’re dear friends of mine. And I can’t even believe that I’m saying that, because it’s John Cafferty. I grew up with his music. He’s my favorite band on earth.” The Caffertys’ son, Jackson, also introduced the Choose Love initiative into his high school in South Kingston, R.I., and the program is now being taught in every state in the U.S. and 77 countries worldwide.
For more information about the Hearts on Fire benefit, visit ivesconcertpark.com.