by Linda L. Esterson | Photography by Bill Ryan
Phil Mullikin waits for a phone call that he dejectedly acknowledges will not come.
It’s a call from the Carroll County courts informing him that no first-time drunk driving offenders have been required to attend the Victim Impact Forum for Intoxicated Drivers session he and wife Cindy hold bi-monthly at the Carroll Nonprofit Center in Westminster.
“This is long-term,” he says sadly. “It does not end. This is never going to end.”
Mullikin refers to the incidence of drunk driving in Carroll County, and throughout Maryland, and to the pain he and Cindy and so many other parents feel as they mourn children whose lives were taken by drunk drivers.
Cathy Mullikin was a passenger in a friend’s car when it was T-boned by a drunk driver in November 1998. She died a few hours later. Within six months, Cindy steered her anger into volunteering for Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD), speaking to classes, urging students not to drink and drive. It took Phil three years to muster the strength to speak publicly about his daughter’s death.
When MADD closed its Carroll County office in 2006, the Mullikins sprang into action, directing their grief into Catherine’s Cause, to memorialize their child and fulfill a community need. They turned to the Carroll Community Foundation for help in establishing their foundation. The Carroll Community Foundation assists with paperwork and helps manage finances, so grieving parents and others can concentrate on working in the community and raising funds.
According to Audrey Cimino, executive director of Carroll Community Foundation, more than 100 of the 290 Carroll County organizations currently managed through the foundation were started in memory or in honor of a child.
“It’s taking something that’s horrible and making something else out of it,” Cimino says.
Catherine’s Cause charges $50 for the court-ordered, two-hour the Victim Impact Forum for Intoxicated Drivers. The class features a variety of speakers, including emergency medical technicians, police, nurses, state’s attorneys and parents who have lost children.
“The stories are heart-wrenching,” Cindy says. “It’s one awful story after the next.”
Over the years, the Mullikins have raised $85,000, which funds scholarships for Carroll County students who, like Cathy, aspire to be teachers. Apart from what’s needed for minor expenses, all of the money raised funds college scholarships.
Sharing Jake’s Passion
College scholarships are a popular offering for such organizations, but the Jake Offutt Foundation has a different focus: It funds scholarships for martial arts classes, which Jake Offutt loved. The foundation also helps families with children who are undergoing cancer treatment pay their medical bills.
Originally, Leah and Joe Offutt set up their organization with help from the Carroll Community Foundation to raise money for Jake’s medical bills following his December 2014 brain cancer diagnosis. After his death in July 2015, they had a substantial amount of money remaining.
“We were so blessed with the amount people donated for Jake’s medical bills,” says Leah Offutt. “Jake may be gone, but there are other pediatric patients that need help.”
By December 2015, Leah Offutt wanted more of an active role, so they filed independently and added fundraising events like an annual golf tournament. Running the foundation is Leah’s second full-time job — she’s also a third-grade teacher — and she works tirelessly to help families who are fighting pediatric cancer. Her effort helps the healing process.
“To live our days without Jake is very difficult,” she says. “But knowing that we can do something good for someone else in his honor makes it more bearable.”
The reward comes from helping others, seeing a suffering child smile and envisioning Jake’s smile, which was missing following his brain surgery.
“I don’t know when I’ll even feel fulfilled,” she says. “Always, a part of us is missing.”
Keeping His Memory Alive
After the devastation of losing their 5-year-old son Nate to a drowning accident in September 2012, Katie and Justin Baker looked for a way to use the flood of donations they received for good. They knew the Mechanicsville Elementary School playground needed rebuilding, and within four months, there was $80,000 for the endeavor.
“We didn’t dream we would raise $5,000 by then,” says Justin, who admits to being overwhelmed by the outpouring of community support. “That was the catalyst of starting the [Nathan Chris Baker] Foundation.”
Starting the foundation proved therapeutic, and “allowed us to keep Nate’s memory alive,” says Justin. “It took the focus off what happened and allowed us to move forward.”
The foundation aims to empower communities with the strength, resources and hope needed to “Go Out and Be Great.” This empowerment comes in the form of fundraising for construction projects like playgrounds and ball fields, care packages for families facing emotional and physical hardships, and “Days of Greatness” events to give families a needed break from their struggles. The foundation has brought Christmas to families in need in the form of decorated trees, lights around the home, and gifts for the children. They also do what they call “drop and runs,” delivering gift baskets, gift cards and movie tickets to families in need.
There are annual events like a golf tournament, the Great 5K and 1 Mile Fun Run/Walk and a Nathan Chris Baker Fun Day. In its six years, the foundation has donated close to $250,000.
“It’s a way for parents to remember their children,” Justin says. “That’s the scariest part of losing a child is to have them forgotten.”
Running a foundation of this size — which far exceeded Justin’s expectations — takes many community members, an active board of directors and a commitment from the family. Katie, a stay-at-home mom, dedicates many hours to the endeavor.
“To have the Nathan Chris Baker Foundation name on stuff that I know will be around 20 or 30 years means a lot to us as a family,” Justin says. “To see his legacy alive, knowing the playful kid he was, playing sports, means a lot.”
‘Doing Something Positive’
On a Saturday in 2012, Rita Medeiros purchased her prom dress. The next day, she died in a car crash, with the dress still in her car. At the suggestion of a friend, Tamara Medeiros memorialized her daughter by providing a scholarship in Rita’s memory. She started Rita’s Closet, which sells gently used gowns and tuxedos at discount prices at a store in the TownMall of Westminster, and holds an annual fashion show and tea.
Medeiros says the decision to start the organization was simple.
“For me, it was doing something positive and proactive and focusing on what I could do to make a difference for somebody else,” she says. “It was doing something positive with our grief.”
The scholarship money has grown to $4,000 annually, which is distributed to five county students.
Healing and Helping
On the anniversary of her son Robert’s death, Tammy Lofink started Rising Above Addiction, after struggling with her faith and the loss of Robert, who was 18 years old when he died of an overdose.
“I knew I needed to do something to help myself heal and help others,” she says.
The organization runs the Reclaiming My Life Sober House for women, and assists people who are struggling with substance abuse, helping them find their way to recovery through guidance, treatment, after-care and financial assistance. Donations and events like a five-mile run and a music festival have raised over $100,000 in three years.
“I will never be the same, because I lost part of myself,” she says. But, she adds, “Robert gave a lot of gifts, and I want to honor those gifts and help other people.”
For More Information
Catherine’s Cause: www.catherinescause.com
The Jacob Offutt Foundation: www.jakeoffuttfoundation.com
The Nathan Chris Baker Foundation: www.nathanchrisbaker.com
Rising Above Addiction: www.risingaboveaddiction.com
Rita’s Closet: www.ritascloset.org
Community Foundation of Carroll County: www.carrollcommunityfoundation.org