Most Southern Arizonans can remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard about the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others on Jan. 8, 2011.

It’s a moment frozen in time — a moment that broke our hearts and forced us to confront a tragedy like no other in our area’s history.

Everyone, it seems, had a direct connection to a lost life, injured citizen, first responder or witness in the Safeway parking lot on that fateful morning. Tucsonans like to think of our city as a big small town. Our reaction to the shooting verified that belief. It had an impact on all of us.

Now, three years later, how have we changed? What have we learned? And perhaps, most important, what has been done to extract a ray of light from that dark page in Tucson’s past?

From my perspective as the executive director of the Fund for Civility, Respect and Understanding, those questions are easy to answer. There’s no question that we’ve changed. There’s no doubt that we’ve learned a great deal. And every day I can see evidence of the obligation we have to make this a better place to live, work and raise our families.

The vast majority of the work done since Jan. 8, 2011, focuses on building a healthier community. Today, like never before, we are dedicated to promoting health and well-being, to recognizing mental illness as an illness and identifying and addressing bullying. We recognize that our children need the full measure of support so they can learn and grow to their full potential in a safe, nurturing environment. Many have sought responsible steps to reduce gun violence.

The Fund for Civility, Respect and Understanding, formed by Ron Barber and his family, is but one of the organizations to emerge from the tragedy. The Christina-Taylor Green Memorial Foundation, Americans for Responsible Solutions, and Beyond Tucson, the organization formed by Gabe Zimmerman’s family, also play critical roles in this renewed effort.

At the same time, the January 8th Memorial Foundation is working to build a lasting tribute to the people who died and were injured on Jan. 8, and to the amazing response.

Many other groups already in place have continued their work. And the list of projects they’re involved with is truly something we all can be proud of.

The Community Partnership for Southern Arizona launched Mental Health First Aid trainings. Interfaith Community Services reached out to the faith communities to provide education on mental illness. The National Alliance on Mental Illness of Southern Arizona steadily continued to advocate for individuals and families affected by mental illness. The Ben’s Bells Project continued to share its message of how profound intentional kindness is and the value of its impact.

These groups — our groups — are a reflection of the best face of our community. We are committed in ways that only those who have experienced tragedy can understand. Tucson understands. The scars of Jan. 8 will always be with us. So will the healing and so will the unity of purpose.

Jennie Grabel, an Arizona native and executive director of the Fund for Civility, Respect and Understanding, is a former morning show radio host. Contact Grabel at