Laura Barnette, Travis Childers, Calvin Keziah, Mandi Meador and Kancham Potts would have graduated in 1997 from North Mecklenburg High School in Huntersville had not tragic auto accidents or, in one case, a health condition stolen their lives.
To turn heartbreak into blessings for others, Jane Bolton, Charles Gilchrist and Sherry Harkey founded Angels of ’97. Beginning with the first spaghetti dinner fundraiser almost 20 years ago, this nonprofit has turned a total of nearly $575,000 raised or donated into scholarships that have helped 179 local teens attend college, Bolton reports.
Of the several fundraisers held annually, two yield the most money for the cause: the ‘Puttin’ Fore a Purpose’ golf tournament, Sept. 21 this year, and a spaghetti dinner in March.
Beyond fund raising activities, Angels of ’97 offers a ministry whereby they “adopt” families whose child has died. As her group hears of such losses, Bolton reaches out to the families – about 90 thus far, she said. With the help of some other parent volunteers in this ministry, she leads a support group that meets monthly.
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“I am not a trained professional; I just want help others realize that they are not alone in this journey. I get to know their child or sibling through the memories shared. And I appreciate their doing so,” she said.
“Our angels are remembered at each of our events as well, and we hold a candlelight service in their memory in early December at Hopewell Presbyterian Church,” Bolton added. “At each tee in our golf tournament, players will see a family-created poster or memory board memorializing an ‘angel.’”
Bolton, who lives in Huntersville, suffered the loss of daughter Laura Barnette and Laura’s friend Mandi Meador in 1995.
Harkey, mother of Mandi, emphasized that there are many benefits to being involved with Angels of ’97. “It’s very therapeutic, but sometimes difficult.”
Harkey and Bolton said they are so happy to have such a strong core group of volunteers. Harkey’s daughter Cami has been involved from the start.
Harkey maintains that scholarship recipients benefit from more than the money (between $1,000 and $5,000). “They can point to a prestigious award. Recipients are carefully selected from the many who apply each year.”
Scholarships are limited to graduating seniors of North Mecklenburg, Hough and Hopewell high schools. Recipients are listed on www.angelsof97.com.
In addition to awarding funds for college and enveloping many grief-stricken parents, a “Stop and Think” campaign was initiated in recent years. Its goal is to encourage youth to always pause to think about choices they are making and potential consequences.
Cornelius resident Shelia Brumlow, a member of the core group who lost her infant Sara Ann in 1993, spearheaded Stop and Think in the spring of 1993.
Brumlow said, “Our team consists of Bailey Middle School counselor Karen Klemm, parents who have lost teens who speak on speeding and seat belt safety, and we also have a woman who was nearly killed by a driver texting and driving. I open up the presentation by asking the students to imagine their high school graduation day. I get them in the moment as they look back over the past four years and the daily decisions they made and the impact on their lives. I have them consider the friends they have chosen, how they treat others, whether they have stayed away from drugs, alcohol, sex and bullying. Have they studied hard, respected their teachers, been a leader or a follower? Did they stop and think before doing something dumb, dangerous or destructive? Then I drive the message home that they have a lot of control over how the four years go and how they feel on their graduation day. Other speakers carry the Stop and Think message when they talk too.… The speakers show very tough videos and pictures.
“After the presentation, we give the students and staff Stop and Think wrist bands they wear proudly. Our Stop and Think team looks each child in the eye when we give them the wrist bands and tell them to please Stop and Think! The hugs are abundant and sincere. At that point, the students go to their Language Arts class and write about the experience. We have great support from the principal and staff.”
Said Bolton, “The eighth graders in the auditorium of Bailey Middle seemed transfixed by the presentation.”
The program will expand to other schools, said Brumlow.
Harkey, who lives in Iron Station in Lincoln County, reported she’s “very excited that the principal of Lincoln Charter School recently agreed to institute the Stop and Think campaign. ... Two events are planned, one occurring right before prom.”
Suzanne Fulton is a freelance writer. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
The Angels of ’97 golf tournament will be held Sept. 21 at Birkdale Golf Club, 16500 Birkdale Commons Parkway, Huntersville. Presenting sponsor is Williamson Wealth Group. Shotgun start is 12:30 p.m. The $110 per player fee includes lunch, dinner and refreshments. All proceeds go to the scholarship fund. To register, contact email@example.com.
To learn more, visit www.angelsof97.com.