A line on a map traces 277 miles from Ellicott City to Newtown, Conn., but it's not the only line connecting a local high school to the town marred by tragedy after last month's shooting that left 20 children and six educators dead.
Lines of Love, a student group at Centennial High School, is collecting handmade bracelets to send to Newtown. Students want to collect 1,000 bracelets by the end of January for the residents of the small Connecticut town — tokens to let them know that they are not alone.
"It's symbolic, reaching out those lines," said Anna Bella Sicilia, 17, a senior at Centennial and creative director of Lines of Love. "When you're wearing a bracelet, you have that line with you all the time. It's a reminder of that positive message, that lines connect us."
So far, as the message spreads through social media, the group has collected about 500 bracelets from across the country: New York, Florida, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland and Ohio. They're waiting for bracelets from Missouri and Washington, said Rus VanWestervelt, the faculty adviser for the group.
The bracelets — mostly of the arts-and-crafts, friendship variety — vary, based on material, length and the skill level of the person who made them, but they all symbolize the same thing.
"When you think about it, each string by itself is pretty weak, but then when you tie them all together, they become stronger, more durable," said Megan Grosskopf, 17, a senior and secretary for Lines of Love. "Maybe, when a person receives a bracelet, they feel alone, but knowing that they have someone miles and miles away that cares, it's a reminder to be strong and stay strong."
There's another line connecting Centennial to Sandy Hook, VanWestervelt said: The bracelets are going to be delivered by a Howard County woman — who wishes to remain anonymous — who was a student at Sandy Hook as a child.
"She's hand-delivering them to the people in the community who need them the most," he said. "We were overwhelmed by this idea of all the lines, like sharing a more direct line with Newtown, with someone who went to that school. The whole metaphor comes into play with what we're doing."
Made up of about 20 active student members, Lines of Love was started in 2009 in response to the suicides of two Centennial graduates, said Kirsten Henningsen, a senior and president of the student group.
In the beginning, the group focused on mental health issues and suicide prevention — a mission they maintain, with proceeds from events going to organizations like Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center, or the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
In raising awareness of depression and anxiety, ultimately, Sicilia said, the students hoped to create a shift in attitude toward mental illness. The "lines," Grosskopf said, meant hotlines for suicide prevention, or lines of communication. Now, the group's mission has expanded to include a focus on a pro-wellness, pro-kindness approach to life — including combating bullying.
The girls joined for similar reasons — a desire to understand, and a desire to help.
"Mental illness has always been something that has affected people in my life," Sicilia said. "That's what brings people in (to Lines of Love), even if you don't suffer, you see how it can affect people you love, and that's what makes you want to do something about it. ... If people realize that they're not the only ones out there (in pain), it makes a big difference."
Sometimes, Henningsen said, when a person feels alone, it's hard to break free of that isolation, but the whole point of Lines of Love is to create connections.
"If you turn around, there's a whole community ready to support you," she said. "We don't always realize that."