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Moms On A Mission

Happy Mother’s Day! In a way, all mothers leave a legacy through their children, but some moms create a lasting legacy in honor of their children. In this issue, Orlando Family Magazine celebrates four moms on a mission ─ each championing causes to make a difference within the Central Florida community and beyond.

 

NOAH’S LIGHT FOUNDATION

Mom On A Mission: “I am an artist, a wife and, most importantly, a mom,” says Amber Larkin, President/Creative Director of Nth Degree Design & Visual FX, Inc., a company that specializes in video animation and special effects. The Larkins were once a family of four: Amber, her husband Dennis, daughter Landin, and son Noah. Then, in October 2009, Noah was diagnosed with Medulloblastoma, a pediatric brain cancer. “My Noah received his wings and was born into eternity last May. I feel that we were truly blessed for the eight years of his life and that he accomplished his job in that short time: to define my life as a catalyst working to cure all cancers. It is now my responsibility to fight for children (and adults) affected by this disease,” says Amber.

Lighting The Path: Noah’s Light Foundation was founded in February 2010 with a mission to “find a cure for pediatric brain cancer by supporting visionary doctors in pediatric oncology, funding new research, raising awareness, and enriching the lives of the brave children struggling with this disease.

“As a parent, you prepare your children for many life events. But there is no way to prepare children for brain cancer. As we battled this abductor of youth, Dennis and I knew that we were chosen, not only to be Noah’s parents, but to address the clear lack of treatment advancements specific to pediatric brain cancer,” explains Amber. Noah’s Light Foundation has given hope to many families through improvements, such as the “Noah Protocol,” which uses natural killer (NK) cells to seek and destroy cancer cells. “We are changing the way people think about cancer — making a difference is obtainable! Visitors to our website can view how pediatric cancer cells are killed by NK cells.”

Shining On: Noah’s Light Foundation hosts annual fundraisers including RunDisney marathons and other races. In 2012, the foundation raised more than $500,000! “To parents who are fighting their child’s cancer…know that you are not alone. Every time I speak to another parent impacted by this disease, I know that we are a family; one that we did not choose, but forever a family,” says Amber. “A new program that we are developing at Noah’s Light centers on family/sibling support as the disease affects each loved one.” Visit NoahsLightFoundation.org.

 

ALWAYS WEAR YOUR SEATBELT

Moms On A Mission: Wendy Grant and Lorisse Garcia met through their children, Laura (Wendy’s 17-year-old daughter) and Eddie (Lorisse’s 19-year-old son), who were dating. In 2011, the young lovebirds tragically died in a car accident. United in heartache, these moms now share a mission “to save lives through raising awareness and instilling accountability to Always Wear Your Seatbelt in loving memory of Laura Grant and Eddie Culberhouse.” 

Buckling Down: Laura and Eddie, along with four high school friends, were traveling to the beach when Laura lost control of the vehicle, resulting in the deadly crash. Their four friends suffered minor to severe injuries, but survived. However, five of the six teenagers were likely not wearing seatbelts.

“We believe that if every teen had been wearing their Seatbelt during the accident it would have saved lives and prevented injuries,” says Wendy. Immediately following the accident,friends and family recognized the need to talk about the use of seatbelts. “Some of our loved ones got together, without Wendy and me, and designed an in memoriam sticker to distribute at the funeral. All of the kids and area students wanted something (a symbol) for their car. This orange sticker reminded people to buckle up ─ a simple task often forgotten ─ and one that later become our logo,” says Lorisse.

Soon after, Laura’s former workplace, Chilly Spoons, requested to honor her life. “Two weeks after the accident, our family, friends, and community held a fundraiser in honor of Laura and Eddie. The money raised that night was given to the two young ladies that were still in the hospital recovering from injuries,” says Lorisse. Similarly, Eddie’s previous employer, Orlando Watersports Complex (OWC), kept the cause top of mind. “OWC proposed a night ride with admission fees to benefit our purpose. Eddie and Laura loved wakeboarding and, obviously, they loved the beach since they were headed there at the time of the accident,” says Lorisse. The OWC fundraiser was held around what would have been Laura’s 18th birthday in May 2011. “We hoped to raise $3,000 and well surpassed that goal. As a result, we granted three scholarships to graduating seniors of Boone High School ─ the 2011 class which Laura had expected to graduate with.” Jake, Eddie’s younger brother, was also among that graduating class, as well as the accident survivors. “Requests for more stickers, shirts, and collateral continued to come. So that summer we filed paperwork to form Always Wear Your Seatbelt,” explains Lorisse, who maintained her fulltime job with the Orlando Magic

Driving Force: The two grassroots fundraisers initiated by Chilly Spoons and OWC are now annual fundraisers for Always Wear Your Seatbelt. The 3rd Annual OWC Night Ride Fundraiser will be held this month on May 10th at 7pm. “As of this May, AWYS will have contributed $10,000 in scholarship funds to Boone High School students. We also placed two educational billboards, as part of Seatbelt Safety Awareness Month, during spring break,” says Lorisse. “We are two grieving mothers, still devastated by the loss of our children, so we just take baby steps, as we can, to continue the mission. However, we have amazing volunteers that also drive the process. We’ve accomplished a lot in a very short period of time, but plan to keep doing this work for the rest of our lives…to save lives”. Visit  AlwaysWearYourSeatbelt.org. 

 

DEBBIE’S DOORSTEP

Moms On A Mission: A mother of two, Kelly Verkaik, loves her job as a pharmaceutical sales rep. Though her work “to empower abused or underprivileged women and children who have little or no support system in their lives” may not pay the bills, the effort certainly ‘pays it forward.’

Opening The Door: “My mother, Debbie, passed away in March 2004 after a year-long battle with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). As a Christian, I battled with ‘Why’ would God allow this to happen? Romans 8:28 states, ‘God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.’ I felt God calling me to take an active roll in making good come from my tragedy. That’s when my husband, Brad, and I decided to create a safe place for abused or underprivileged women and children. My mother and father had provided my sister and me with a loving, supportive home and we wanted that to be her legacy. Thus, Debbie’s Doorstep was born,” says Kelly.

Debbie’s Doorstep is a faith-based organization that bridges the gap between short-term emergency shelters and independent living. “Our mission is to implement a true change of direction in the lives of the women and children we serve. Debbie’s Doorstep provides approximately one year of free housing to our residents,” says Kelly, in addition to services, such as job training, financial planning, spiritual growth, and physical/emotional abuse recovery. Since its founding in 2010, Debbie’s Doorstep has helped four single mothers and six children get back on their feet. “We focus on quality rather than quantity,” explains Kelly. “Our facility is a 3 bedroom, 2 bath home in rural Lake County.”

Adding A Step: In addition to an annual fundraising gala, Debbie’s Doorstep hosts “Helping Hands” events throughout the year, where volunteers can help with necessary indoor and outdoor repairs or maintenance and miscellaneous organizational needs. “Any volunteer service can make a difference. For example, we currently are in need of in-kind lawn maintenance for the home,” says Kelly. Visit  DebbiesDoorstep.com

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