Aurora Theater Shooting

Aurora theater shooting victims and families create local charity

The surviving victims of the Aurora theater shooting and their families have had well-documented issues with the charitable support coming from around the state and the country.

The problems got so bad that Governor John Hickenlooper was forced to step in and appoint Ken Feinberg to serve as a "special master" charged with developing a protocol to ensure that the funds being donated toward the Aurora shootings were actually reaching the victims and not just other charities.

In response to the calls for a "national compassion fund" for victims of mass shootings, Aurora victims and family members have taken things into their own hands and organized their own local charity: Aurora Rise. The organization is comprised of victims, family members and volunteers, and this local connection is a more effective way to offer help, believes Megan Sullivan, communications director and board member of the organization.

"We wanted to find a way that we could make an impact and help the community -- that was really important to all of us -- and the only way we could see to do that was to create our own charity," she says.

Sullivan also has a personal connection. She lost her brother, Alex, in the theater shooting.

Aurora Rise began last summer as a one-off fundraiser put together by Jason Farnsworth, owner of local comic book store All C's Collectibles in August 2012. But the need for more local support soon became apparent.

"We had some friends who were hurt pretty severely, and they needed surgery and they didn't have health insurance," Farnsworth says. "We helped them pay for surgery; one ankle surgery cost about $7,000. It happened in our backyard to people we know. We wanted to help."

When issues arose with the donations to national charities not reaching the victims, Farnsworth decided to step in.

"We wanted to kind of have a little bit of control over who we're giving money to," he says. "So we just decided to turn it into a nonprofit. There's still a call for people needing assistance."

The charity is built around more of a "grassroots" person-to-person concept as opposed to being a large-scale operation. Sullivan says that the goal of the organization is to help out wherever it can on a small scale.

"We don't have millions of dollars worth of funds; we're victims helping victims," she says. "Understanding that we can help, we can give gifts, but also understanding that we can't solve everyone's problems.

"I think there are things that the national foundations can offer, like full medical assistance," she adds. "But then they're not going to cover basic things like financial assistance to basic medical visits, or even just helping to clean house when the day is overwhelming."

At this time, only monetary donations or gift cards are accepted by Aurora Rise, in addition to comic book art to be sold online and at silent auctions. And for the organization, transparency is key. Members plan to release information about how the donations are being used, if the recipient grants permission.

The charity is in its infant stages, but the participants plan to be active in the Colorado community, attending comic book conventions such as the Denver Comic Con and partnering with comic book artists to create a commemorative sketchbook. The proceeds from the book will go directly to Aurora Rise to be distributed to victims.

Sullivan hopes that having a local connection will allow victims and families to continue to build support systems, and so far, the local response has been positive.

"We just want to support the victims and their families in a way that we can," she says. "And the outpouring of support from the local community has been huge."

More information can be found at the organizations' website and Facebook page.

More from our Aurora Theater Shooting archive: "Aurora theater shooting families join call for national protocol to streamline donations."

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Charles Trowbridge