For the first time in her four years as a Newtown traffic agent, Kathy Holick stood on the sidewalk next to Hawley School Friday morning instead of in the middle of the road.
Holick smiled widely, looking on as her replacement, Stephanie Henss, directed 7-year-old Ivy Masotta across the busy the intersection with her mom, Erin.
“Hey, sweetie!” Holick exclaimed, crouching to Ivy’s height as the second grader pulled a drawing — a stick figure with long, pencil-sketched hair and wearing neon yellow clothing, just like Holick’s uniform — from her brightly colored folder:
“You’ve given us so many smiles over the years,” Erin Masotta said, wrapping Holick in a hug. “Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.”
It was an emotional day as 50-year-old Holick — known to locals as “Smiling Kat” — marked her last official day of directing motorists and guiding students safely to and from school.
Holick’s unique twist on her job made her a fixture in the community: She’ll always greet students, parents and drivers with a smile and a dance while directing traffic — something Holick described as “choreographing traffic.”
Holick started on the job while also volunteering at the Sandy Hook Warehouse — where gifts to the community were stored following the Dec. 14, 2012, shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Erin Masotta said Holick’s time as a traffic agent has helped to heal the community.
“[Holick] was here right after the tragedy and we had a first grader here [at Hawley[ at the time,” Erin Masotta said. “She’s brought so much joy and love.”
“And high fives,” Holick added, flashing a smile at Ivy.
Even though she wasn’t doing her usual dancing in the street Friday, Holick’s energy was still contagious.
As buses full of students pulled into the Hawley School driveway, kids waved excitedly as they caught Holick’s eye and earned a return smile and wave.
At one point, Holick boarded a bus where students shouted their farewells from the back rows.
“I love you guys,” Holick said. “You guys are all my inspiration.”
Several cars passing by honked their horns, some drivers shouting out lowered passengers’ windows, “Thank you, Kat!” or “We’ll miss you!” Some even did a little dance in their cars as they drove by.
Holick said she never expected to become a “town celebrity.” Her main goal, she said, has always been to bring happiness to others.
“I’m a smiler [and] I love people,” Holick said. “Even the grumpiest of grumps, I want to see them smile for a moment.”
“It’s for the joy of everyone else to keep people happy,” she said. “One moment, that’s all. They see it, they’re happy for that moment and they drive through. Everyone needs to smile at least once during the day.”
Holick has forged connections with nearly every person to cross her path. She’s watched children grow up, families expand and shared in the ups and downs of many lives.
“These are my families now,” she said.
“To know that I made such an impact … anyone could’ve done it, but it’s heartwarming and humbling,” Holick said.
Henss, who officially takes over for Holick on Monday, said drivers might get a little dance every once and a while after she gets a better hang of directing the traffic.
“I know I have very big shoes and gloves to fill,” Henss said. “I only hope to be as good as she is.”
Valerie Hart, a lifelong resident of Newtown, has known Holick since before she took up the job of traffic agent. Her two children have interacted with Holick on the way to and from school.
“It’s really easy to get caught up in … rushing your kids along and you lose track of what’s important and she’ll be out there smiling and waving and the kids and I will all smile together,” Hart said. “It’s a good reality check to just be happy and appreciate the little things.”
Hart said Holick’s presence makes all the difference, particularly in a community that has gone through as much as Newtown has.
“What’s important is that just something small like a wave or her dancing or her smiling and her trying to protect the kids of this community by keeping control of everything when she’s doing what she does, it’s an integral part of this community,” Hart said.
That’s why Hart started a GoFundMe fundraising campaign, to raise money to offset expenses after Holick’s retirement.
As of Friday morning, the fundraiser had raised $2,680 of a $10,000 goal. Many donations collected were $25 and under. Hart said she plans to keep the page open for another two weeks before presenting the funds to Holick.
“She would in no way in any form ever ask for something like that,” Hart said. “I thought it would be an awesome way for the community to say thank you. She’s going to be moving on to a new part of her life and we can give her a little extra help there.”
Holick made the decision to leave her post due to financial struggles, but will remain in town, working for her husband’s carpet installation company. She said she will find ways to continue to spread joy in the community.
“I’m still who I am. I’m still a crazy woman who loves to make people laugh and will dance in the streets even if I’m not directing,”