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Sal Annunziato, founder of Branford-based Love Tribe Open Hearts Arts Life Center, opens the center to the public on Sunday, Dec. 22 to host Holiday Memories, an open mic event. (Photo by Pam Johnson/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
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Sal Annunziato hopes those missing a loved one this holiday season will gather for Holiday Memories to help one another heal.
Sal, founder of Branford-based Love Tribe Open Hearts Arts Life Center, is opening the center to the public on Sunday, Dec. 22 to host Holiday Memories, an open mic event. Holiday Memories will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. at the center, located at 1008 Main Street.
Sal is coordinating the effort with end-of-life guide and advocate Betsy Trapasso, a Branford native now residing in Los Angeles.
“What an amazing person,” says Sal of Trapasso. “That’s her forte—she works with individuals and families on death and dying, and how to do that, and then afterward, honoring that person. She called me and said she was going to be in town for Christmas and asked what I thought about doing Holiday Memories. I was like ‘Oh my God, that is perfect.’”
Holiday Memories is the center’s offering as part of Branford375. The idea is to encourage people, especially those from the Branford community, who have experienced loss of a loved one (pets included) to join others in a supportive environment where they can get in front of a group to offer a song, read a story or poem, play an instrument, dance, share photos, or otherwise honor a special one who has passed.
As Sal and Trapasso note at the event’s Facebook page (search Holiday Memories Branford 375), “the holidays are difficult for many people because of loss, so this will be a lovely way to honor and remember those who are special to us, especially people from Branford. Come and be part of a special community gathering in our very special town. We look forward to seeing you and hearing your holiday memories.”
For Holiday Memories, Sal will be singing a song he wrote, “Angels are Near.” The Branford resident of more than 37 years is a singer/songwriter/guitarist with rock n’ roll roots who’s produced several albums featuring his original music.
He says he has Trapasso to thank for giving him the opportunity to share the song, which he wrote after the loss of Christina, one of his four children, at the holidays.
“I lost a child in 2003 on the 23rd of December in a tragic car accident,” he says. “She’s my angel. I dedicated this center to her, and all of what I do is in line with how important it is to be grateful, and not to take a moment for granted.”
It’s also okay to feel sad at this event. Everyone will be there to support one another, Sal adds.
“We want it to be a place where everyone feels comfortable to come, and to know that everyone who’s coming for that event is coming for the same reason. There’s such healing in it,” he says.
He hopes to continue to partner with Trapasso so that Holiday Memories can become an annual offering at the center.
Some parts of Holiday Memories will be streamed live on Facebook to share with even more members of the community.
People who can’t join the event can email their message to be read that night to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Creating a Center to Help Others
Sal established the center in 2018 as a space where people can gather to connect through health, wellness, music, and the arts. Sal also offers yoga, which he found on his path to recovery from drug addiction as a youth.
Sal’s yoga instruction experience includes years as a teacher with Ravens Wing Yoga. About two years ago, Ravens Wing founder Sally Murphy-Noel decided to offer classes and programming only from her second instructional space, (where Sal still teachers, too) at 19 South Main Street, leaving an open spot where Sal’s practice could grow.
“I’ve been a yoga teacher for over a decade at Raven’s Wing Yoga, and I was looking for a place where I could do more of a community-type thing. I wanted it to be a place where we could introduce music, art shows, healing, [and] recovery programs, and this magically appeared,” says Sal.
The name of his center—and its philosophy, “Love Tribe, Open Hearts, No Matter What”—had been a message Sal began sharing years before he opened its doors.
“I was teaching a yoga class on a Friday afternoon and just before we closed, I said, ‘Let’s remember to keep our hearts open, no matter what.’ And just like that it came to me. Over the next several months, it became a mantra that really helped me. And I said, ‘I need to do something really simple that reminds people of that,’” says Sal.
That was about seven years ago. He put those words on a red latex wristband and started offering them to people in his circles of support, initially printing 500 of the bands to give away.
“I started handing them out around town,” he says. “People started to ask for them.”
When word of his bracelet hit social media, things really took off.
“I’ve been ordering them now for the last seven years. We give them out for nothing and we ship them out through my company,” says Sal, who is also CEO and co-founder, with partner Lee Wezenski, of Nex Gen Public Safety Solutions.
The East Haven-based company provides interactive software to police, fire, and EMS in 114 of 169 municipalities in the state; as well as Connecticut State Police and some major universities.
Since Sal started shipping out the bracelets, “we have over 60,000 people now that have bands, in every state and in over 20 countries,” he says.
A Place for Recovery
As the popularity of the message grew, Sal knew the next step was to find a way to create a center where the philosophy could manifest. He also wanted to offer a place where he could lend support to people in recovery, based on his own experience in recovery.
“One of the key things we do here is recovery. I’ve always felt, from myself being in recovery, that the most desperate feeling for me was feeling isolated and alone, so I wanted to create a space to connect people,” he says.
Among many varied offerings, the center offers life recovery three nights a week.
“I draw from my experience of 12-step programs that I’ve been involved with for over 30 years” says Sal, who battled drug addiction that started in his teens. “It’s not a replacement for 12-step programs, but I wanted to do something a little different. It’s encompassing everything that I’ve learned and that I feel can help everyone, so it’s more inclusive. The mantra is, ‘We’re all recovering from something.’”
The group gathers people who are seeking support across a wide spectrum of experiences, from those experiencing anxiety to those dealing with loss of a loved one, addiction issues, eating disorders, and more. Following a yoga session, Sal opens the gathering up to a group meditation and discussion.
“I have been so blessed with the people coming,” he says. “All these different people come, and they’re getting connected and helping each other heal.”
The center is a place to heal and connect through many different methods, he adds.
“Whether it’s yoga, whether it’s art, whether it’s music or meditation or having a speaker come in, I try to make it as easy as possible for people to come in,” he says. “One of the key things for me is diversity, which keeps things fresh, and open-mindedness. Everybody needs to find their own way. Here’s a place to try different things and see what resonates with you.”
Sal is also one of the organizers of the annual Open Hearts Yoga and Arts (OHYA) Festival on the Branford Green. The festival, which took place for the third year in a row in August, brings the community together for live music, yoga, wellness workshops, and artistic expression and raises money for local non-profits.
Of course, yoga and more is offered throughout the year at the center. (For example, instructor Pamela Scroggins offers PIYO classes—Pilates and yoga—every Wednesday at 6:30 p.m., with a beginners class on Thursdays at 5:45 p.m.)
Sal encourages speakers, musicians, artists, and others looking to share to contact him about bringing their talents to the community through Love Tribe Open Hearts Arts Life Center.
“We want it to be always jam-packed with events,” he says.
Get ready to celebrate the holidays with our helpful guide