The Sandy Hook Tragedy

On December 14, 2012, our world was changed forever. A lone gunman entered Sandy Hook Elementary School in Sandy Hook, CT and opened fire. Twenty children and six teachers and administrators lost their lives that day. In the days immediately following, children, families, first responders and members of the community searched for a way to heal from the tragedy that captured world-wide attention.

Our Beginnings

The very next day, Annette and Brian Sullivan, owners of Zoar Ridge Stables, a horse farm in Sandy Hook, received a phone call from a mother who was wondering if she could bring her children to the farm to find some happiness in the darkness that was shrouded over the community. Annette Sullivan opened up her farm that day and has not closed her doors since. The farm provided the community a safe place for children and their families to come. The Sullivan’s began to use their horses as a means to bring healing to the community. Through Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA) and Zoar Ridge Stables, equine assisted psychotherapy has been provided to those affected by the tragedy, free of charge.

Our Vision

Embrace Hope-Sandy Hook Equine Assisted Therapy Foundation was born out of the need to continue to do the work that has already helped many children, families, and members of the community. The foundation uses funds to pay for the facilities and care for the horses for equine assisted mental health programs. It is the foundation’s goal to continue to provide equine assisted therapy free of charge for those in need for decades to come.

In the months since the tragedy, Embrace Hope-Sandy Hook Equine Assisted Therapy Foundation has enabled mental health care providers to work hand in hand with the equine specialists to help heal. The first summer, the Sullivan’s opened up their farm once again to hold a summer camp for the children in the Sandy Hook community.

EAGALA has trained over 8,000 individuals in 41 countries in this experiential modality since its founding in 1999. The program utilizes professionals who use equine assisted therapy to address mental health and human development needs.

Our Board

Annette Ammentorp

For 25 years Annette operated Zoar Ridge Stables in Sandy Hook CT. At the Stables she taught horseback riding to many children and adults of all ages, had an active a horsemanship program and provided summer camps and while caring for up to twenty-five horses. It was this active role within the community that inspired her to establish Embrace Hope – Sandy Hook Equine Assisted Therapy to address the trauma sustained by children as a result of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.

Annette is the mother of two daughters that have graduated from Newtown High School and are in college. Annette moved from Newtown to Tennessee in 2017, but remains an active part of our organization.

Michael Branchflower

Michael Branchflower’s 25+ year international experience. Early on, Michael served in executive operational roles, including GM and President, with full accountability for P&L, operations, business development, sales, marketing, product innovation, strategic planning, outsourcing execution, and integration responsibilities. More recently, he has worked with companies needing to meet evolving business development, operational and product goals, as he helped them define and execute innovative strategies, leverage networks and resources, and then implement new tools and processes–including operational restructuring.

Michael is active in supporting entrepreneurial and early stage business ventures and sits on the boards and advisory boards of start-ups in the UK and North America.

Much of Michael’s success is attributed to his ability to build and maintain world class relationships globally and leverage this network for mutual benefit.

Michael resides in Connecticut with his wife and four children. He and his wife are actively involved in their community and in supporting their children’s various athletic and academic pursuits. Michael sits on the Board of Embrace Hope Sandy Hook, an accredited EAGALA program. The program utilizes professionals who use equine assisted therapy to address mental health and human development needs.

Mary is passionate and honored to serve as the newly appointed executive director of Embrace Hope and brings over 30 years behavioral health leadership expertise to the organization.

Karl Kessler

Karl Kessler, M.D. is a Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist at Andrus Children’s Center in Yonkers, NY, a private, non-profit social service organization that specializes in helping children and families learn to manage the impact of trauma and adversity, particularly severe emotional and behavioral and mental health issues in children.

Dr. Kessler received his B.A. from Wesleyan University and his medical degree from the University of Connecticut’s School of Medicine. He completed his residency in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center, Westchester. He is a member of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and a Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association and currently serves as President of The Psychiatric Society of Westchester County, NY. Dr. Kessler lives with his wife in Ridgefield, CT.

Sarah Matula

A photographer, lawyer and finance professional, Sarah moved with her husband, horses, and dogs to Newtown from England, and found a strong community pulling together to recover and heal. As a keen horsewoman, when she heard about the work Embrace Hope was doing, Sarah was excited to become involved and help with images and business experience.

Mary A. Poupon, APRN, BC

Mary A. Poupon is a psychiatric APRN/psychiatric nurse practitioner licensed to practice in Connecticut and New York. She completed her graduate education at Columbia University and is published in her field. She is currently a psychiatric nurse practitioner at an inpatient hospital treating children, adolescents and adults. She was the program director and clinician with the Ryan White Mental Health Program which provided innovative mental health treatment for difficult to engage children, adolescents and adults living with HIV/AIDS in the boroughs of Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx for over 18 years. In 2013 she became certified as an equine assisted psychotherapist and served as the Director of Mental Health at Embrace Hope in Sandy Hook, CT. She was appointed as the Executive Director of Embrace Hope in September 2017. Embrace Hope has been providing equine assisted psychotherapy to children, adolescents and families who were victims of trauma related to the shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.She brings a broad set of skills to Embrace Hope with a special focus on children and adolescents. Her expertise includes psychiatric consultation and assessment, individual therapy, family therapy, group therapy, crisis intervention, bereavement counseling and extensive leadership skills in behavioral health.

She is an EAGALA certified professional who combines her academic training, clinical experience and love of horses to deliver the gentle care Embrace Hope participants seek.

Mary is passionate and honored to serve as the newly appointed executive director of Embrace Hope and brings over 30 years behavioral health leadership expertise to the organization.

Declan Procaccini

Declan has lived in Sandy Hook, CT with his wife and two children since 2002 and his appreciation for equine therapy came from first-hand experience because it was the only treatment his daughter responded to after surviving the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14th, 2012. Knowing that numerous other victims of trauma across the community could also benefit from the healing benefits of equine therapy, Declan decided it was time to give back to the organization that helped his family and so he joined Embrace Hope in 2015.

With a B.A. in Public Relations from Central Connecticut State University, Declan has spent more than two decades managing and training advertising sales teams within both print and digital publishing companies, from small start-ups to large multi-billion dollar corporations. This includes the launching of magazines, new web sites, digital media products and events. Today, Declan serves as Director of Sales for IEEE Globalspec, the world’s largest content provider for engineers, where he and his team work with manufacturers helping them to achieve their digital marketing goals.

Tania Stergue

Tania Stergue is principal of Capla Corporation, a marine paint company that has been serving a globally-based customer portfolio for decades. In this role, she manages the entire business cycle, from sourcing to sales and collections. During more than 20 years of managing the company, she has developed and refined advanced business and relationship-building skills that benefit Embrace Hope – Sandy Hook as she serves as a board member and secretary. Her creativity, strategic thinking and problem-solving skills make her an especially valuable member of the board and partner to the organization.

As a resident of Sandy Hook since 2004 and the mother to three school-age children, Tania lived through the tragedy of the December 2012 events that left nobody in the community untouched and unmoved. In addition to her work with Embrace Hope, she is active in Newtown and the wider area as an event volunteer with various organizations and is a busy sports and Boy Scout mom to her sons.

Tania holds a BS in Economics with a minor in Finance from Penn State University and an MBA in Data Analysis and Business Strategy from UMass Amherst.