West Hartford resident Tracy Tighe Johnston founded a nonprofit focused on empowering families to heal through outings and other experiences.

Along Asylum Avenue near Tracy Tighe Johnston’s home across from Elizabeth Park, an art installation depicting hearts has raised funds and awareness of Tighed Together. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

By Ronni Newton

Throughout February, Tracy Tighe Johnston focused on spreading the love. Hearts attached to utility poles near his home on Asylum Avenue, across from Elizabeth Park, form an art installation as they proclaim love for the earth, for animals, for friends.

The hearts were purchased for a donation of at least $10 each until February – but the heart-based fundraiser, timed to coincide with Valentine’s Day and Heart Health Month – was aimed more to raise awareness of a nonprofit organization recently founded by Johnston that nurtures and supports families coping with trauma.

“Spread the Love” hearts, a fundraiser for Tighed Together, adorn utility poles along Asylum Avenue. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Tighed Together is more than just an organization that offers professional support. And while they organize outings and experiences for families, the goals are also different from organizations like “Make a Wish” because the outings themselves are meant to promote emotional healing.

“It started with cancer, but now it’s about healing from all kinds of trauma,” Johnston said.

She launched Tighed Together in 2020, but just launched the website for what became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in January.

The organization is rooted in her family, the lessons she learned growing up, and her own healing journey following a diagnosis of breast cancer and the discovery that what she initially thought was stage 1 was stage 3B and that she carried the BRCA2 gene.

She received her cancer treatments in Connecticut, but had her surgeries at Dana Farber in Boston, where she participated in their Facing Forward program. She said she personally benefited from the six-week program which emphasized survival, but it made her realize her husband and children did not have that opportunity.

“My diagnosis is my family’s diagnosis,” she says. It was important to try to find a way to better support her entire family on her healing journey. “I don’t want them wondering alone.”

The Johnston family with their entertainer. Courtesy picture

Johnston herself is a natural networker and facilitator, and she’s not afraid to be public or reach out to the public. She even uses the front door of her house across from Elizabeth Park as a “canvas” – right now it is also decorated with hearts.

“I’ve never been a quiet person,” she said. “So many cancer survivors are stoic,” she said, but she thinks it’s important to talk about healing and recovery, not seeing it as a battle but finding the positives, bringing people together. family members by openly facing their thoughts and fears and making their time together as positive as possible.

The outings are designed to be fun experiences for families, and the wide variety of options include trips to adventure parks, art therapy, drumming, visiting a farm, learning about a new sport, family tattoos, music workshops, outdoor adventures, paddleboarding or kayaking, puppy therapy or a picnic at sea. Not all experiences are calm and meditative; there is also an optional rage room session. And if the options available aren’t appealing, families can create their own.

There is no fee for families, but there is a purpose for the experience and participants aren’t just sent out on their own. Tighed Together facilitators work with families before, during and after the outings they attend. The first sessions usually take place via Zoom, and this is when families determine the type of experience they would like to have.

A family experience through Tighed Together. Courtesy picture

People don’t like to talk about trauma, but trained facilitators, all experienced and practicing, are adept at making experiences meaningful and positive, helping people find new ways to deal with their fears and the images that may affect them. haunting, talking about things that happened, or a diagnosis, that scares them.

Three families have already had experiences this year, and seven are currently in the works. “The aim is to be mainly in spring and summer,” she said, but there are also ski outings.

“We’re really lucky that the families who found us are really looking for care,” Johnston said. This is not long-term care, she noted, but rather an acute care situation, hopefully involving fun, laughter and improved communication, which “allows families to stay together.

A family experience through Tighed Together. Courtesy picture

Growing up, she says, the Tighe family motto was, “The family that plays together stays together. Tighed Together builds on this idea, creating positive memories of adventures. It may sound oversimplified, she says, but it usually works. “Everyone’s family is fragile. We all want to stay close and stay together.

Johnston has always sought to spread positivity in multiple ways, and for several years has had a small free library at the end of her Asylum Avenue driveway, with a chair beside it inviting people to stop and rest, and browse current offers. She talks to those who use the library, and currently there are brochures for Tighed Together available in addition to the books.

Learning to build a small free library is also one of the exit options from Tighed Together.

A sign outlining the ‘Spread the Love’ campaign sits on a utility pole outside Tracy Tighe Johnston’s home on Asylum Avenue, where she for years had a small free library with a chair next to it. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Johnston, who was previously a teacher, vice-principal and director of special education before her cancer diagnosis, now runs Tighed Together full-time. The other hosts — mostly doctors or licensed social workers, and she’s adding two more, one from Dana Farber and another from Hartford HealthCare — are all volunteers, but she pays them stipends. Funds that have been raised so far are also being used to pay for the experiments, and Johnston hopes to attract corporate sponsors.

“We’re still in our infancy,” she said.

“If you are curious, call your family yourself. There’s no expectation of what your trauma is,” Johnston said, only the choice to be empowered to not be stuck in a negative mindset because of it, to be able to let things go down. the river – literally if you are kayaking or paddleboarding. .

“There are no criteria, no fees,” she said. “If you can, we encourage you to pay it forward, but no one ever pays for themselves.” You don’t have to be from the West Hartford area, although there are plenty of experiences nearby.

People often ask what they can do to help someone who is dealing with illness or trauma. Funding an experiment can be an answer.

Facilitators also benefit from the experiments. Two are assigned to each family, and it’s a different approach than many are used to. “It’s really difficult for mental health practices,” she said.

“There’s so much room for growth when it comes to families and caregiving,” Johnston said. “We’re constantly being offered a choice, if we don’t fight it.”

Tighed Together is another way to make that choice, to find healing, which she says comes in many shapes and sizes.

For more information on Tighed Together, visit the website. The website also includes videos of family experiences, including a video of Johnston’s own family.

Johnston can also be contacted by email at [email protected] or by phone at 860-729-5393. You can also follow Tighed Together (@tighedtogether) on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

A family experience through Tighed Together. Courtesy picture

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