Especially Special: Celebrating Joey and the Work She Has Inspired

Originally published by Michele Gay on LinkedIn.

Image of the blog title next to the two Especially Safe Guides and an image of Josephine Grace Gay, who inspired the program Especially Safe.

Each year, as we move through the holiday season, two significant dates also remind us of the reasons behind our unwavering commitment to protecting every school, every student, every day.

December 11th marks Joey’s Birthday; she would have turned 18 this year.  

December 14th stands as a day of remembrance for the 26 precious children and adults tragically lost at Sandy Hook School. A day that forever changed the families and communities that loved each of them. While no one organization represents us all, I do invite you to learn more about how each family has chosen to honor the legacy of their loved one.

As mothers to Emilie Parker and Josephine “Joey” Grace Gay, Alissa and I founded Safe and Sound Schools. Our organization is inspired by the profound memories and legacies of our daughters, and propelled by the unshakable belief that no child should ever feel unsafe in their learning environment.

This year, I am honored to share the wide scope of meaningful work we have, and will continue to do, in their honor. Our 2023 Safe and Sound Schools Annual Report showcases major projects, violence prevention research and programs, regional and national events, and other ways we are serving communities across the United States and beyond. The report also highlights our Speakers Bureau, featuring renowned school safety and student wellness experts who delivered more than 160 speaking engagements across 26 U.S. states and Canada this year. Their impact on behalf of our mission is immeasurable, and we’re immensely grateful.

This Annual Report is a culmination of our efforts. On Monday, December 11th, I invite you to celebrate one of the little girls who inspires these efforts every day. Please join me, my family and the Safe and Sound Schools team as we celebrate a happy heavenly 18th birthday for our sweet girl, Joey. 💜 

Here’s how you can #CelebrateJoey: 

Raise awareness about Especially Safe® within your schools and communities

Joey was an extraordinary child in so many ways. Her amazing energy, beautiful smile and kind spirit made her loved by all who knew her. She also had many “special needs” as a student with autism, apraxia of speech, gross motor and visual impairments, and other developmental disorders. We like to say that she was “especially special.”

From the very beginning, it was a dream of mine to meet the school safety needs of our “especially special” kids. Especially Safe® was developed in Joey’s honor and her fingerprints are all over this program. She continues to shine bright through our efforts to promote inclusive safety preparedness that considers the needs of all student populations–from developmental disabilities to communication challenges, medical needs to mobility challenges, and more.

Available to download for free on the Safe and Sound Schools website, I encourage you to learn more about the program and how you can plan and prepare, and teach and train to meet the special needs of students, staff, and visitors in your school community.

Join the Parade of Purple.

An annual tradition for many within our community, you can celebrate Joey and her enduring spirit by wearing her favorite color (“pur-pur”), lighting a purple candle, flying purple balloons, etc. By tagging Safe and Sound Schools and using the hashtag #CelebrateJoey on social media, we are able to repost your heartwarming photos, fill our feed with purple and share in your celebration.

Enjoy the little things and spread the love.

Here are a few of Joey’s favorites: Carry out a random act of kindness, support families with Autism, scoop a spoonful of peanut butter (or two!) when no one is looking, eat a pretty cupcake (icing first, of course!), or  share a hug and hold on an extra moment.

Support Joey’s legacy with a donation to Safe and Sound Schools in her honor.

Your generous contributions empower us to continue our work inspired by Joey, Emilie and those lost on December 14th, 2012. Help us do more in 2024 and donate now

Thank you all for being part of our strong and supportive community. 

Together we can make a difference. Together we can make our schools Safe and Sound.


With love and light, 

Michele Gay

Co-Founder and Executive Director

Safe and Sound Schools

During this season of giving, make your impact

Help us reach more communities in 2024. Support the Safe and Sound Schools mission this holiday season with a tax-deductible gift.