Episode 91: Eric and Maura Schwartz, Mary's Fund
In this episode, Maura and Eric talk to Karen about Maura’s mother, Mary Joy Scherlach. Mary was a school psychologist at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut; on December 14, 2012, Mary gave her life protecting her students when someone entered the school and fatally shot 26 people and injured one. Following this nightmare, Mary’s family and friends created Mary’s Fund to honor Mary’s legacy.
Intro Voices 00:04
Where do I go? It only happened once. I think I was singled out. The phone calls began about one month ago. What is hazing? Something happened to me when I was younger. I'm worried about my safety. He said he was sorry. Can someone help me? Where can I get help? Can someone help me? This is You Matter, a podcast for the NYU community developed by the Department of Campus Safety.
Karen Ortman 00:36
Hi, everyone, and welcome back to You Matter, a podcast created to teach, inspire and motivate members of the NYU community who have been victimized in some form or fashion and to identify resources both on and off campus that can help. I am your host Karen Ortman, Associate Vice President of Campus Safety Operations at the Department of Campus Safety, and a retired law enforcement professional. Today I welcome Maura and Eric Schwartz. Maura and Eric are here to talk about mother Mary Joy Sherlock, Mary was a school psychologist at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. On December 14 2012, Mary gave her life protecting her students when someone entered the school and fatally shot 26 people and injured one. Following this nightmare, Mary's family and friends created Mary's Fund to honor Mary's legacy. Maura and Eric, welcome to You Matter.
Maura Schwartz 01:33
Thank you for having us.
Eric Schwartz 01:34
Karen Ortman 01:35
My pleasure. Let's start by talking about Mary and who she was in life.
Maura Schwartz 01:42
So many things to talk about when it comes to my mom. So growing up, she was dedicated to her family dedicated to her work. Just you know, had a radiant light about her, you know, her middle name is Joy. And I think that kind of really sums up kind of who she was. Always smiling, you know, putting everybody in a good mood and just overall just a joyful and loving person.
Karen Ortman 02:17
Eric, what are your memories of her?
Eric Schwartz 02:20
Well, it was interesting. At first I found out the mother of the woman I was dating was in the field she was in, and I thought - oh my, how scary is that? You know, if she gets inside my head I'm in trouble.
Karen Ortman 02:36
Scary thing, huh?
Eric Schwartz 02:37
Yeah, she was nothing but pleasant, personable, you know, right away, welcomed me into the family and was just like Maura said she was really the heartbeat of the family for a while and like, always had a good time, you know, helped cared. Certainly she was the, you know, the ears for the family, like she did in her profession. So, very fortunate experience to have spent the time I did with her.
Karen Ortman 03:06
So this unfortunate event happened in 2012. When did you Eric join the family?
Eric Schwartz 03:15
We got married a couple years before that, in October of 2010. And we had been dating about five years prior to that - we actually met at Shenandoah University down in Winchester, Virginia. So yeah, I got to spend about seven years with her prior to Sandy Hook.
Karen Ortman 03:33
Oh, you're very lucky.
Eric Schwartz 03:34
Karen Ortman 03:35
Yeah. So what influenced your mom to pursue her career path as a school psychologist?
Maura Schwartz 03:43
So she went to SUNY Cortland, in Cortland, New York and studied psychology. My guess is that inspired a lot of thinking back on her childhood and her mother, my grandmother, who, once she had all of her children decided to go back and get her doctorate and become an English professor. So a lot of the household duties then went to my mother being the oldest daughter, and she had one older brother and has a twin brother, but then also has two younger sisters. So my guess is she became a caretaker. And so really, she, as I said, was always a caring person. It's probably why she went into the field of psychology. Out of college, she actually worked in a group home for mentally handicapped adults. So I think she had that experience, but I felt that wasn't her niche. She wanted to work, probably with younger people. So once she had me and my sister, she went back to school and got her master's and did her master's work in child psychology. And then around the time I was my daughter's age, or once my sister was my daughter's age, she went and started working and become a school psychologist. So I think she kind of had, you know, meandered through the family life trying to figure out where and then once she found it. That was it. She knew it.
Karen Ortman 05:13
And how old your daughter?
Maura Schwartz 05:15
We have a five year old daughter and a two year old daughter. The two year old we leave at home today.
Karen Ortman 05:20
Okay. Was your mom passionate about her career?
Maura Schwartz 05:24
Oh absolutely. She herself called it her like God's mission. Like her mission in life. It was her work her why she was putting on, you know, besides her family, why she was put on this earth was to help children who are battling in socially and emotional and behavioral ways.
Karen Ortman 05:43
That's really special.
Maura Schwartz 05:44
Yeah, it is. A lot of people don't get that yet calling and she definitely had it.
Karen Ortman 05:50
It's wonderful. When did your mom start working at Sandy Hook Elementary?
Maura Schwartz 05:57
I believe it was in 1994. If my math serves me right, because she was in her 18th year. So that would be around to around 1994. She had spent one year prior kind of doing two different schools and part time - it was her first full time child psychologist position. And that was at Sandy Hook.
Karen Ortman 06:19
And she probably loved working with all the kids.
Maura Schwartz 06:21
Oh, yeah. I mean, she would always, you know, she loved the kids. And it was, as a lot of us in education know that. There's a lot of other stuff you have to do. And she just wished she had more time with the kids. Rather than having to do all the other things that go along with being in education and in an education setting.
Karen Ortman 06:38
Yeah. And is that why you chose education?
Maura Schwartz 06:40
Um, I definitely has part to do with it. For sure. My mother taught me how to be empathetic and how to treat all those with respect and understanding. And that definitely helps me as a teacher.
Karen Ortman 06:52
Yeah. So you're a teacher where?
Maura Schwartz 06:54
I am a choir teacher at Overbrook High School in South Jersey.
Karen Ortman 06:59
Okay. So let's go back to Friday, December 14 2012. Do you recall how your day started?
Eric Schwartz 07:11
So yeah, we at the time, it just so happened Maura had taken that day off. She sang with the Philadelphia pops, Christmas choir. And she had a concert that afternoon. So she took the day off of work. At the time, I was working as a reporter. So I was working evenings, so we're still in bed. And it was after eight o'clock, and she got a call from her sister Katie. And it's one of those if you ever gotten a call from somebody who shouldn't be calling you at that time. On that day, you have a feeling something's wrong. Like calling at 8 o'clock on a Friday when I would normally be working? Then she, you know, panicked said turn on the TV. There's been a shooting at Mom's school. And so we did that. We turned on CNN flipping through all the different channels.
Karen Ortman 07:57
And Maura, what was your thought at that moment?
Maura Schwartz 08:00
That there was no way that like, that's there's not, that didn't happen. Disbelief. That didn't happen. But yeah, you knew something was wrong. As Eric said, when she called she had no idea I'd taken the day off from work when she called.
Karen Ortman 08:12
So you're flipping around the various news channels and they're all covering it.
Eric Schwartz 08:15
Yeah. And at first, you know, I'm saying listen, they blow these things out of proportion. It's fine. Nothing's wrong. And the first report that came in was that one adult one teacher had been shot in the leg. And I remember telling her Okay, worst case scenario, your mother's the one person who was shot in the leg. I'm sure she's fine. That's the worst-case scenario so everything's gonna be good.
Karen Ortman 08:42
At this point, did you have the inclination to call your mother on her cell phone?
Maura Schwartz 08:48
Yeah, for sure. I was calling her work number which I have memorized since childhood you know, cuz when you get home and you call your mom from school, so calling that number, calling her work phone calling her cell phone and obviously no answer. Yeah, no answer.
Karen Ortman 09:05
So what happens next?
Eric Schwartz 09:07
The next the next report we get is that the principal Dawn Hochsprung had been killed. And that's where things really start to get a little even more intense. You start running questions through your head? Where's your mom's office? Is it located near the principals?
Maura Schwartz 09:24
Which it's not.
Eric Schwartz 09:25
Which its not, but at the time, we had no idea that they were in the same meeting room together.
Karen Ortman 09:29
So this is Connecticut. You're living in New Jersey?
Maura Schwartz 09:32
Yes, South Jersey south. Yes.
Eric Schwartz 09:34
We're getting information as everyone else is, right from the TV. Yeah.
Maura Schwartz 09:38
And I know I specifically have the memory, and Eric's gonna take the lead on this, because a lot of my memories are very, you know, foggy and vague from that day, but I do remember that bottom line on CNN or whatever news station, but that bottom, you know, that banner they put in the bottom and it said, you know, principal and school psychologist shot, you know. There was only one school psychologist, but like, as your disbelief, you know, I'm thinking - No, there's gotta be someone else. No, it's not, you know, it's gotta be somebody you know, that's kind of what was going through my mind. But that's one specific memory I do have of that morning.
Eric Schwartz 10:12
Yeah, I was in another room at the time talking to my sister. And I just heard her lose it and I ran into the room and said what's wrong? What's wrong? They said mom's dead, they said mom's dad! And again, just on the bottom line, and one of the other teachers was actually talking with a member of the media, talking about what she had seen there.
Karen Ortman 10:32
At any time, did you read your mother's name at this point? Or did you hear anybody referenced your mother during the course of the interviews?
Maura Schwartz 10:41
I don't think so. I don't think they named anybody's names.
Eric Schwartz 10:48
So at that point, she's reaching out to her father.
Maura Schwartz 10:50
Trying to call my dad and my sister.
Eric Schwartz 10:52
To try and confirm.
Maura Schwartz 10:53
Definitely my dad.
Eric Schwartz 10:54
To see if they got something wrong. And her dad's, you know,
Maura Schwartz 10:58
Didn't know anything, either. I mean, he flew from work to New Town. He said he didn't even know how fast he was driving, he was just, you know, trying to get there as fast as possible.
Karen Ortman 11:10
So what time was this?
Eric Schwartz 11:11
This was this was early at this point. This is morning, late morning, early afternoon. And she mainly wanted to go see her dad, we've got to get to her dad. I remember packing, couldn't bring ourselves to pack funeral clothes. At that point. I packed for three days, I have no idea what was going through my head, like we're gonna be back. We just grabbed the dog threw him in the car and took off. And the drive itself was just an unbelievable experience. I remember trying to concentrate right this was the longest drive ever. But normally, we can get to Connecticut in about three hours and 15 minutes, it took over five hours because it's a Friday afternoon in rush hour. So not only is it feeling long, it physically is longer than normal. And I remember the conflicting feeling of wanting to get out of the car so bad. And then also not wanting to get there. Because once you get there, it's real, right? You have to go see her father. And this takes a whole new level. But when we left the house, we had no idea any children were killed. So we're learning as Maura is bringing herself to you know, look at some news. Look at social media. Now all of a sudden, there's three kids dead, six kids dead, and 20 kids, and you've realized in that car ride now you're part of this national story, which, you know, nobody wants to be a part of.
Karen Ortman 12:32
At what point did you get confirmation that it was your mother who was the school psychologist that was killed?
Maura Schwartz 12:39
We kind of just - we'd kind of just knew it. I mean, the, you know, the reports were in and there was only one school psychologist, my dad went to the firehouse that's down the driveway from Sandy Hook. And it got to the point where he was there. And he's like, I'm not, I'm not waiting for what I know is going to be the news. You know, there was parents that were waiting for a very long time. And he like he had to go he couldn't be he couldn't be around to see those parents find out that their kids weren't being reunited with them. At any point, were you thinking my phone's not ringing? My mother's not calling me? Yeah, yeah.
Karen Ortman 13:14
Even your father probably realized he wasn't getting phone calls from her.
Maura Schwartz 13:18
Yeah, I mean, I remember even I think right before we left, one of the phone calls I had with my dad was something along the line, he said, it's not good, honey. It's not good. Like, so that's yeah, as Eric said, we just needed to get to Connecticut. And my experience in the car ride is even really bizarre too. Because I know it was long. It was like, five, six hours. But I have like no memory of that time. The couple like snippets of like, remember memories for me, but my head was just so not in there that I to this day I mean, I couldn't tell you the six hours we spent in the car it seems like it was just a couple minutes here and there.
Karen Ortman 13:56
So at some point you get there. Where did you go? Did you go to the school or...
Maura Schwartz 14:01
No we went right to my parents’ house. So my father met me and Eric in the driveway. We already had a lot of our family friends or neighbors were already there. So one of my childhood best friends drove to the airport to pick my sister up so she got there may be like an hour after we did.
Karen Ortman 14:27
And at this point, you did not get any confirmation about your mom?
Maura Schwartz 14:32
We didn't get anything official least till one or two in the morning knocked on the door at one in the morning and we got official notification like from law enforcement. But even at that point we had already been assigned. Right. Lonnie Mo who was our State Trooper, they assigned a state trooper teach family to kind of walk them through all the stuff that we had to do. And I believe he was already assigned to us. So that was the official notification.
Karen Ortman 14:36
So you knew?
Maura Schwartz 14:40
We had known. I mean, we are one of the first people to know because as soon as you get the name, then we were the first because they couldn't release the names of the children for a while. We were the ones that everybody knew the name of the principal Dawn and my mother. So that was what was crazy at first, too, is that we're also not only dealing with this trauma, but we're dealing with the fact that as Eric said, we're in the middle of this biggest news story, you know, trying to chase off me media, our phones would not stop ringing. Our cell phones will not stop ringing. My sister got a phone call from some reporter before we really even knew it was my mom. So it was just crazy. Weird, you know, cell phones kept ringing and it was always you know, Good Morning America. You know, we just stopped answering. We weren't even answering our phones at that point unless we knew that number because we knew it was someone from the media trying to get us to talk.
Karen Ortman 15:55
I must be horrifying, though, as a survivor of something like this, to not only be going through the the painful loss and mourning of your mother, but then everybody wanting a piece of you, to talk to you and they're complete strangers.
Maura Schwartz 16:11
Yeah. And, you know, Eric was a member of the media at that point. And, you know, we knew that they're just doing their jobs. But you know, it was, like a news outlet from Paris show up at our door.
Eric Schwartz 16:23
Maura Schwartz 16:24
Yeah, it was it's just it was one of those things where it everything was already so unbelievable. Like, you had no idea you just couldn't believe this was really happening. But that like elevated it.
Eric Schwartz 16:33
Yeah, we released a couple official statements to the AP press and talked to a couple people because like she said, I was a sports reporter. But I had done a couple where a coach had died or kid had died. And I hated having to call somebody about that. So I understand that those people are, you know, so uncomfortable. They're not trying, you know, it's not the paparazzi coming after us. These are legit reporters who, you know, they have kids to think about. So they were respectful of us. And when we were able to we, you know, we tried to help them.
Maura Schwartz 17:06
Then I think the first interview I did, I was still in Connecticut and I did one of our local outlets from like, Philadelphia, like CBS out of Philadelphia. So like I picked up on more of the local stuff, then trying to go on Good Morning America where you are down in Time Square or something like, you know, trying to keep it, you know, as low key as possible, trying to deal with all of it.
Karen Ortman 17:31
So after you learn officially, although you seem to have known from the moment you were in your car driving to Connecticut that your mom was in fact, gone. You get the official notification. What happens next?
Maura Schwartz 17:52
It was just, you know, trying to process I mean, we I mean remember one morning, my dad, I mean waking up, Eric, like Maura Maura your dad is crying. I mean, like he was the next, was it this maybe the second morning? He was like inconsolable so like having to see your father like that, too is really tough. And just again, it's just we couldn't - it was hard. We couldn't eat. Everyone sending food. Obviously we had, you know, more lasagna than we could have ever...
Eric Schwartz 18:06
Sunday morning You know to clarify - plenty.
Maura Schwartz 18:23
I could not eat lasagna, I had a hard time sleeping.
Karen Ortman 18:30
I'm sure that lasted for a long time.
Maura Schwartz 18:32
Especially like those couple days after then we had to go you know do the normal thing. When you lose someone you have to go make the plan the funeral plans the wake, you know, who do we need to secure it like whether there's going to be a lot of people how many people?
Karen Ortman 18:45
So how did that play out?
Maura Schwartz 18:46
So we had over 150 people show up that the week. We did one long one instead of doing like a morning and then stopping we just did four hours and the line was out the building.
Eric Schwartz 18:59
A couple moments I remember from that is one we had a bunch of friends who rented a big van, drove the three plus hours, got in line waited two hours, gave us a hug, went eat and went home you know, and then people were just doing that because they know how meaningful it was. And then I remember how difficult it was seeing some of the surviving teachers, some were on their fifth funeral of the day - they'd been given a spreadsheet of all the kids, all the wakes, all the funerals one after another. obviously we let them to the front of the line to get through but kind of seeing the guilt that they were going through knowing that you know they were survivors
Maura Schwartz 19:37
Yeah, yes. It was tough to see. Yeah, they and some of the you know some of the children that passed were of Jewish faith so the funerals were so soon yeah, you know, We took almost an entire week because we wanted to wait for all my mom's siblings who live out in Colorado so and they had to get - thankfully I don't even know how they got it - but the people were offering free tickets and so everybody was able to get to Connecticut that wanted to be there. so because of that we waited the full week, but there was a lot of kids who had to get buried like, you know, right away. So they were battling all the weeks and the funerals.
Karen Ortman 20:13
It must have been really painful time for not only your family, I mean all of the families, but just the community, you know, there was such an outpouring of grief and love, and support for everyone.
Maura Schwartz 20:29
They set up Christmas trees. And we did go visit that was like the one Memorial thing we did do that week. My aunt's my mom's sisters really wanted to go so we went and that was that's probably the closest I've been back to Sandy Hook since.
Karen Ortman 20:46
Are you from Connecticut?
Maura Schwartz 20:48
I am. He is not.
Eric Schwartz 20:49
I'm from National Park, New Jersey.
Maura Schwartz 20:51
So that's how we ended up down in South Jersey. But yes, I grew up in Trumbull, which is two towns away from Newtown.
Karen Ortman 20:57
So how long were you in Sandy Hook following this tragedy?
Maura Schwartz 21:03
We were probably in Connecticut for a week? A a little over a week.
Eric Schwartz 21:05
We were home by Christmas. So maybe a week and a half? Maybe a day or two after the funeral we started going back.
Karen Ortman 21:12
How was it once you got home? T
Maura Schwartz 21:15
It kind of helped. You know, I always said that, like one of the best things for us was that we didn't live in Connecticut. And we, and even for my dad that we didn't live in Newtown, that we could go and get away, especially being out of the state, I think that definitely helped. Getting back to like, you know, going to work, you know, just those things that are normal, or to quote normal, I think definitely helped.
Karen Ortman 21:45
So in the tragic passing of your mother, which many years later, I offer my condolences, of course
Maura Schwartz 21:54
Thank you very much.
Karen Ortman 21:55
What would you say is your mother's legacy?
Maura Schwartz 21:58
I mean, we're trying to make it with Mary's fund.
Karen Ortman 22:04
Let's talk about that. What is Mary's Fund?
Maura Schwartz 22:06
Mary's fund was developed a couple of days after the original chapter in Connecticut was developed a couple of days after because, again, people, the amount of support and letters and gifts and just people just wanted to do stuff. And you know, people, can we send you money? Can we send you money? Like, we don't want the money? Like let's do something. we were in the kitchen. I remember, like, brainstorming we're like, Let's do something that mom that Mom would want the money for. And, you know, we had actually had one, a family friend who's like, I'll run it, I'll run the whole thing. But we like we didn't want to burden anybody with all of a sudden, you're in charge of a whole nonprofit. So we found out that there was a community nonprofit in Fairfield County, Connecticut, and they do the overseeing of all the financial stuff, and then you can just kind of set it up through them. So that's what my dad did is he set up Mary's Fund through Fairfield County Community Foundation. And then about maybe five years later, me and Eric, you know, living in South Jersey, it's hard for us to be like, hey, donate to this, it goes to things in Connecticut, so we wanted to bring it to where we, you know, have so many friends and family down where we live. So that's one we created about 2014/ 2015, we created the South Jersey chapter of Mary's Fund. Okay.
Karen Ortman 23:23
And Mary's fund does what?
Maura Schwartz 23:25
It is to aid in adolescent and children mental and social health programs.
Karen Ortman 23:31
That's wonderful. And in what way does it do that?
Maura Schwartz 23:34
So we have two groups first off, we've done scholarships. I have worked at Salem High School in Salem, New Jersey, so we do an annual scholarship of $1,000, for a senior who's going into the mental health field, or social work or some something in that in that field. And then when I changed schools in 2015, we decided to keep the Salem one and then also add the school I'm at now, which is Overbrook High School. So now we do two $1,000 scholarships annually for our high school students.
Eric Schwartz 24:07
And then we started, we first started, we worked with the Mental Health Association of southwestern New Jersey, kind of when we were just basically a distributor, we would run the fundraiser, we would get them the funds because we'd never claimed to be mental health experts.
Maura Schwartz 24:19
Yeah. And that's what we say like we you know, I know a little bit from being my mom's daughter, like I am not, you know.
Eric Schwartz 24:25
We got to work a little bit with the Moyer Foundation, who deals with children dealing with loss, minding your mind one year. And now the two big ones we support our Tri State Canine Crisis Response Team. They send therapy dogs all over. They're down in Vegas right now.
Maura Schwartz 24:47
But they've been everywhere. Anytime you hear of a major, you know, event.
Eric Schwartz 24:50
Yeah. And it's a meaningful one because I remember when she referenced the big Christmas tree event, down in Newtown. I remember they had therapy dogs there and how much it was helping the kids, even our dog who's absolutely crazy. You know that that week he was great with the younger members of the family. Just kind of consoling. So that was a nice special one. And we also work with Angels Community Outreach in Pittman. And they do just about everything; feeding people clothing them, really helping build people up. So that those are two ones right now that are close to our heart. And we've been blessed that we've been able to distribute a little over $140,000 So far.
Karen Ortman 25:33
Eric Schwartz 25:34
And that's all thanks to the people who have you know, supported. We do an annual golf tournament and reception.
Maura Schwartz 25:40
We did ball drop the last few years.
Eric Schwartz 25:42
In which I did an ice ball drop in which 1000s of golf balls come flying from a crane and someone has a chance to win $5,000.
Karen Ortman 25:48
So nice. That we that came about during the pandemic. You're not getting people together for golf tournament. What can we do? Well, we can sell golf balls dropped from a crane for fun.
Maura Schwartz 25:58
It's actually really amazing. We do really well. And it's, it's really fun to watch. We have our Facebook group, and we have the live feeds from those. And it's actually really cool to see all that.
Karen Ortman 26:09
So how does someone get involved in that? Are you doing that again?
Maura Schwartz 26:13
Oh, we will. We will, we did it this year again. It's just such a fun and good quality fundraiser because it's, you know, we make a lot of money off of it. But it's also there's not a lot of, costs so all the money, almost all goes right back to the fund. As Eric says, We are distributors, everything that comes into us from these funds, we push right back out to the community.
Karen Ortman 26:37
So when in 2022, will you have that event?
Maura Schwartz 26:40
Most likely, we usually do it at the end of August, in conjunction with our golf tournament. As I said, I'm a teacher. So I was trying to do it right and I work at a camp during the summer. So it's like we do i in between that time of summer camp and school starting now. And feel free to like Mary's Fund on Facebook. A lot of the pictures there are from ours, because, I love my dad, but he's older and technology is not his strong suit. So a lot of the pictures are from our events down in South Jersey. We try and highlight the stuff he does too. As he just had another very, very successful golf outing, it's actually going to be his last golf outing. He's kind of hanging his hat on. His chapter has earned over a million dollars.
Karen Ortman 27:25
Maura Schwartz 27:26
Karen Ortman 27:28
So the mission of the fund is to support programs, and I'm talking about Mary's fund supports programs that aid the mental and social wellness of children and adolescents absolute as your mother did, and everyday life care work. So what kind of programs are we talking about?
Maura Schwartz 27:45
So again, so the Angels Community Outreach of Pittman, they do things like for Halloween, you know, kids who don't who can't afford a costume, you think about like things that may not even cross your mind or something that is such a part of childhood is not be able to do that for the child is devastating. And also for a parent or guardian in that situation is just devastating. So you know, doing that specially obviously now with the all the holidays coming up, making sure kids have food, making sure kids have presents, and not just the little kids, but the adolescents, they really push, you know, a 16 year old who doesn't have a chance to have the latest thing that all their friends have. Yeah, again, that's, you know, it can be very traumatic to a teenager to see all their friends and then them being like, why don't you have it and then you're feeling like you're isolated and pushed away. As I said, the therapy dogs, they come in, they've even come into my camp, they've come into my school, they help out children all the time with dealing with loss. As Eric said, I don't want to talk about the Kroc, but we're doing this year with the Kroc Center and the gingerbreads.
Eric Schwartz 28:56
I mean, this will probably have taken place when this airs, but we're working with a special needs school, who's gonna be bringing in about 75 kids, and we're having a little gingerbread building event with them, bringing some different groups in to help support and then they're getting this big walk through Christmas experience. So we want to do special things in the holidays. And you know, our main focus, of course, is mental health. But we also want to have, you know, just fun things that you know, her mom would approve of,
Maura Schwartz 29:22
Which again, aids your mental health.
Karen Ortman 29:24
Absolutely. Mary's fund is, you have a Facebook page dedicated to Mary's fund. Is there any other social media lines?
Maura Schwartz 29:36
We use basically Facebook, and then also a lot of times we'll upload stuff from our personal ones as well. We also have a website through the South Jersey Community Foundation. It's on the Facebook page. And that's where also donations can be made. If anyone's willing to donate that as the donations come our meeting through that website.
Karen Ortman 30:02
What's your earliest memory of your mom?
Maura Schwartz 30:04
Oh, my goodness. Um, I mean, so I lived. My first house was a smaller, like three-bedroom colonial on one of our main streets. And I mean, definitely like, again, a lot of it's tied to videos and, and pictures, because when you're that young, that's kind of how you remember it. But I remember that I had a fourth birthday party, and she hired Winnie the Pooh, I'm saying this with quotes Winnie the Pooh, who came and did like magic for us. All of us girls, very typical ladies had like the pigtails. And we had the party dresses on. And I remember her doing - we did like- we walked around, and when the music stopped, we had a stop. You know, like, all those games that you play when you're a kid. So that's probably one of the earlier memories.
Karen Ortman 30:57
So she was fun.
Maura Schwartz 30:58
Oh, yeah. Especially when it came to us, you know, as her kids and, you know, memories of her in the kitchen. Even when we're older. Like talking when we were teenagers, like, grabbing us and dancing around the kitchen and twirling us and, you know, she was just again, joy of joys - Joy was her middle name, and that's a great way describe her.
Karen Ortman 31:19
When you reflect back on your life with your mom, what makes you smile?
Maura Schwartz 31:29
Her smile. And yeah, I guess her smile and her and again, like, how empathetic and how much she really truly believed that every person matters. And that to see people as not just as an individual, which is I feel like in life is just super important to know that every single person counts. And that every person is going to have their emotional baggage and their stuff that they're going to be good at their stuff they're not going to be good at. And that definitely helps in my career as well.
Karen Ortman 32:06
Maura Schwartz 32:07
Exactly. Exactly. Everybody matters. You matter. Yeah.
Karen Ortman 32:11
Eric, what's your most fond memory of Mary?
Eric Schwartz 32:16
I'll give you a couple. One. I remember. Before I proposed Maura. I called her parents. And I waited long into the night they were there on vacation in Arizona, I figured I'll let them let them have a good time. Let them enjoy.
Karen Ortman 32:33
Because you're asking that question would not keep the good time.
Eric Schwartz 32:36
Yu know let them enjoy that wine. And, you know, just in case things go awry. And I remember calling and talking to her dad and dad put mom on the phone and she just started screaming. And I'm like, I think that's a good thing. So she was so excited about it. She was so happy to see you know, Maura getting married. And my other favorite memory would be would be at the wedding. For you Animal House fans out there. She was on the floor during the gator.
Maura Schwartz 33:03
She had so much fun at our wedding. And she was awesome at planning. I mean, she did like everything was very lucky to have such she's a very good very good planner. Like in life. But she had a lot of fun at our wedding and yes, we even have it on our on our wedding DVD. Which is nice, you know, to have that. We have images of her, you know, it was only two years before Sandy Hook. So you know, eventually we can show our daughters, you know, they've seen pictures, but we feel like show them who nana was.
Karen Ortman 33:40
Yeah. And I'm sure it's fun talking to your daughters about your mom.
Maura Schwartz 33:43
Yes. It's very special.
Karen Ortman 33:47
When the anniversary of this tragedy approaches, how do you feel? Is it something that I would imagine you dread?
Maura Schwartz 34:02
I mean, I don't know if I would say dread. I mean, obviously it's not like I'm looking forward to it. typically, I take the day off from school. And crazy enough, my principal's birthday is that day, so anytime I put the day he knows. So I take the day off. When Mackenzie was little sometimes I spend times with her or just kind of spend time with myself like I think last year I did some Christmas shopping you know something that's gonna make me happy. Leading up I usually watch some of the specials that have come out just to kind of remember again, and I feel like it's important to not forget about what happened, and more so to the outpouring of support. I mean, we have we got some silly things that people gave to us. We have some amazing things. My youngest daughter still sleeps with the blanket that we got from someone who just wanted to do something. So it's also seeing like the goodness serve humanity when it’s an event that kind of can make you question, humanity. And so we usually at least all usually watch at least one of the specials. There's a really good one they did on amazon prime a year or two or three ago I can't remember called Newtown and we've watched that a couple times. And, we also in one town near us and you know, it just by accident. It was a town we lived in for like a year, and they put up 26 angels. And they're still there on Mother's Day, I took Mackenzie over there, and we put some flowers by one of the angels, still there. you know, they have no connection to us. But they've maintained that so sometimes doing that, to kind of, you know, if the place that kind of that can kind of be her remembrance.
Eric Schwartz 35:49
2022 could be interesting in that it's a 10 year anniversary.
Next year, I'm sure will be a little tougher.
There will be some struggles. And not to mention, our oldest daughter will now be the same age as those children. Six years old, which most of the ones who lost their lives, I believe first grade.
Karen Ortman 36:10
If you could spend one more day with your mom, what would that day look for you?
Maura Schwartz 36:14
Oh, my goodness. I mean, I'd be happy just to be like cuddled up on the couch and like watch a Christmas movie with her. Or, you know, my mom, we have this tradition every year. And this is going back to when we were little. So my mom loved Thanksgiving. That was her holiday - loves it. And to usher in Christmas, we would always watch A Charlie Brown Christmas. And so like me and my sister still do it every year. Like, we got to turn the football off. We got to watch Charlie Brown. And, like I can hear a lot of times I can hear my mom's like saying the lines. So even just like cuddled up on the couch and watching Charlie Brown Christmas. Like I don't even need to -you know, she loved going to theater - obviously, I love doing theater -that'd be great too. But like, I would just want to be with her. Just snuggle up with her. Just, you know, hang out.
Karen Ortman 36:28
Sounds like you have a tremendous amount of beautiful memories.
Maura Schwartz 37:07
I do. I'm very I'm very blessed to have to had such a great childhood.
Karen Ortman 37:14
Eric, how did Mary impact your life?
Eric Schwartz 37:18
Well, I mean, she definitely brought a positive energy. You know, she was sharp witted. She was a football fan too, which is fine. She was a Dolphins fan. So I would tease her about that, because they're pretty terrible.
Maura Schwartz 37:33
And he's a Buffalo Bills fan, so it's like going back and forth.
Eric Schwartz 37:36
Yeah, some inner rivalry there. But I think that the lasting impact is just trying to be a little bit nicer and kinder when you can. doesn't always work. Doesn't always happen that way. But you try. Because when you lose somebody who has that goodness, you got to try and replace it. And you can't do it yourself. But if everybody does a little bit, you know, we tried to do. And that's kind of what Mary's Fund about.
Karen Ortman 38:03
Is there anything that I haven't asked you that you would like to share at this time?
Maura Schwartz 38:08
Um, one thing I should have probably said, when one of the fondest memories, we have a family lake house up in central New York, and it was my grandparents’ house, and my mom started going up to there when she was like, 13. So it's been in the family, and now my dad owns it, and eventually, my sister will own it. And we have Nona's tree there. And so what we did is, we scattered her ashes in most of the ashes in the lake, because again, very important to her very important to our family. And then the other ones are, in the you know, the ground near the tree. And my daughter has painted rocks to put there that says love. And we go and we walk to Nona's tree and she gives it a hug. So that place has kind of become our way to really remember my mom. And that's probably where I feel closest to her when I'm sitting out on the lake looking at the lake, especially at sunset. Because we have the great view of the sunset going down the other side of the lake and it's beautiful. And that's probably where I feel closest to her and just really feel like her presence is there. And that presence is there for my kids, which is really nice. Because unfortunately, you know, she never actually got to meet them. So, but I feel like they get closer when they're up there.
Karen Ortman 39:27
Oh, wow. That is special. Well, I thank you both for joining me today and sharing the very special memories of your mother and for sharing with our listeners, Mary's fund and how it provides access to mental health services for children and teens. I think that's a really admirable venture and a wonderful legacy for your mom.
Maura Schwartz 39:55
Yeah, I hope so. Yeah, thank you so much for having us.
Karen Ortman 39:59
My pleasure. So thank you once again to my guests Maura and Eric and to all of our listeners for joining us for today's episode of You Matter if any information presented was triggering or disturbing, please feel free to contact the Wellness Exchange at 212-443-9999 or NYU's Department of Campus Safety and their Victim Services Unit at 212-998-2222. Please share, like, and subscribe to You Matter on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or Tune in.