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Ireland Thompson '18 Named as an Avielle Foundation Intern
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Ireland Thompson '18 Named as an Avielle Foundation Intern

Ireland Thompson '18 was recently selected to serve as an intern for the Avielle Foundation, a non-profit organization based in Newtown, Connecticut, whose mission is to prevent violence and build compassion by supporting neuroscience research and encouraging community engagement and education initiatives to support brain health.

The Avielle Foundation (TAF) was founded by Jeremy Richman, Ph.D., and his wife, Jennifer Hensel, M.S., after their daughter, Avielle, and 25 other children and educators were tragically murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012. On the foundation's website, Richman and Hensel have stated, "We want to prevent tragedies like these from happening to any community — ever again. The Avielle Foundation has been created ... to foster an understanding of what leads someone to engage in harmful behavior, the risk factors, and conversely to identify and engender protective factors that lead away from violence and toward compassion, kindness, connection, community, and resilience." Richman spoke about the work of the foundation at a Westover Chapel Service several years ago.

"I am beyond excited to be part of this organization," Ireland said, "and I cannot wait to see where it takes me." In her profile on the organization's website, Ireland said she became interested in the work of The Avielle Foundation because "I am passionate about the combination of neuroscience and communications and hope to study this as a dual major in college. With my interest in advocacy, human rights, writing, and problem solving, I want to combine these communication skills with a focus on neuroscience. I want to communicate about neuroscience research in hopes that there can be more awareness brought to the brain health fields, and a greater demand (and financial support) for neuroscience research."

Ireland added, "After learning about many tragic events and violent acts on the news, I started to question what exactly is being done to prevent violence. I questioned the news media's approach to communication on these topics. Most stories dealt with conflicting interests or politics and few dealt with causes and solutions. I believe that society needs more strong voices supported by scientific research to communicate a standard understanding of brain health while breaking its many stigmas to help prevent violence and build more trust in communities."

Ireland serves this year as Third Head of School and during her junior year was Second Head of the Wests spirit team. During two recent summers, she took part in the School's annual community service trips to Jackson County, Kentucky, which has been identified as one of the poorest counties in the United States. Ireland said her experiences on the trips "made me more aware of the people around me and about other people's experiences, and it made me more aware of myself and my values."

Ireland also said her participation in a Student Diversity Leadership Conference in Los Angeles last fall "helped my self-confidence, and I have been able to bring back aspects of the leadership training I had there to my role as a student head at Westover."

Speaking of her work as an Avielle Foundation intern, Ireland said, "I want to have a better understanding of how the brain works. The field of neuroscience is so underfunded and under researched. In the future, I want to be able to help people not get lost within themselves. I also want to learn more about myself."

The Avielle Foundation's website notes that it "has garnered an amazing group of innovative, forward thinking, and engaged youth that has evolved into the TAF Intern and Fellowship Program. TAF Interns have been lending a unique millennial perspective to understanding the neural basis of violence and compassion as well as educating communities about brain health. They have profoundly shaped how we engage and educate the everyday citizen. Their focus and projects have covered a wide range including: brain science basics, website design, branding, program development, and scientific research."