From grief comes giving: Landenberg non-profit helps schoolchildren and families
By Kerigan Butt
By Richard L. Gaw
Even before they endured the unbearable pain of saying goodbye to their stillborn daughter, Avelin Cara, in April of 2007, well before learning the news in the corridors of St. Francis Hospital and then returning home to see brand-new baby toys stacked in anticipation, Shannon Lynch and her husband Nathan Palkovitz of Landenberg had thought about establishing a non-profit organization, if for no other reason than to help people who need it.
Less than a year later, as a lasting legacy to the memory of their daughter, Lynch and Palkovitz began Carasmark, an organization that has turned their grief into a continuum of caring, support and love.
“It was something that was in my mind before I'd ever lost her,” Lynch said recently from her Landenberg home. “My husband and I are very passionate about helping others, and I wanted to keep her memory alive, and it just clicked into place. I thought, 'Here is a reason.'
They named the organization for their daughter's middle name, which in Gaelic means “Friend.” With the support of a dedicated group of friends, Lynch and Palkovitz hammered out the mission and particulars of the new organization – mostly at their kitchen table. After a poker game fundraiser at their home earned enough seed money, Carasmark was off and running. Today, five years later, the organization has raised more than $30,000, which has been primarily earmarked for the purchase and distribution of backpacks for schoolchildren in New York City and inner-city Wilmington (2,400 backpacks have been delivered so far), as well as to the monthly distribution of full meals for up to ten underprivileged families in inner-city Wilmington. Freedom Outreach, an offshoot of the Vineyard Christian Fellowship in Landenberg, coordinates the distribution of these meals.
In addition to its Backpack and Dinner Projects, Carasmark sponsors its Remembrance Project, which helps defray the funeral costs for parents who have lost children to stillbirth.
The themes of Carasmark events are nearly as diverse as the people they help. In a given year, Carasmark will host a Christmas Tea, an “Under the Troll Bridge” 10K run in nearby Chesapeake, Md.; a Waffle Walkathon in Crossan Park in Landenberg; benefit concerts; and, to celebrate its fifth anniversary, a masquerade gala was held this past March at the Hartefeld National Golf Club in Avondale that raised $2,000.
They've received substantial assistance from outside sources as well. In 2012, proceeds from the Wilmington Flower Market provided for a $2,500 grant, which went to the purchase and distribution of backpacks at schools in Wilmington. Through other fundraisers, Carasmark was able to donate 300 backpacks that Lynch loaded into her van and personally delivered to P.S. 2 in the Chinatown section of Manhattan.
Although Lynch does most of the planning of events for Carasmark with Nathan, an assistant principal at the Linden Elementary School in Delaware, she credits her best friend Kristen Hilferty, who also serves as the organization's secretary, for providing support and creativity.
“Shannon is an entrepreneur when it comes to giving to others,” said Hilferty, who has known Lynch for the past 14 years. “She and Nathan still grieve the loss of Avelin in so many ways, but through that grief, they both have an amazing resolve to accomplish things. All of it is to be able to give something back to their daughter. The greater the sacrifice, the more they are able to keep the memory of Avelin alive.”
There are several days and nights when Lynch juggles the demands of running the organization with helping to raise her daughters Tessa and Isla, but rather than dwell on the time burden, she knows that the beneficiaries will appreciate what she and her growing army of volunteers are able to do.
“It's great to be able to know that I'm providing dinner for families, and backpacks for children who would not otherwise be able to have them,” she said. “I've been shocked and humbled by people's willingness to help. Even strangers who don't know me still want to help.
“It doesn't mater if a fundraiser only makes a few hundred dollars,” she added. “It remains an opportunity do something good and allow me to to hang out with friends, and remember Avelin.”
For more information about the organization, visit www.carasmark.org, visit “Carasmark” on Facebook, or e-mail Shannon Lynch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail email@example.com.