Turning tragedy into something positive to help others

It's sad anytime someone dies, but it seems particularly more upsetting when it's a young person.

Young is such a subjective word, that a young person could be an infant who died of SIDS, a toddler stricken with leukemia, a teen who overdoses or dies in a car accident or a mom who succumbs to cancer.

It just doesn't seem fair, yet I'm a firm believer God puts us here on Earth for a reason, and once we've completed our mission, even if we don't know what that mission may be, our time is up and God could take us at any time. We've done what we were put here to do.

Maybe it's not something we do during our lives that's the reason, but what happens after our death. So many times I've seen positive things come from someone's death.

It could be a support group for families dealing with cancer, an advocate group or a scholarship fund.

When my grandmother had breast cancer, I participated every year in the Relay for Life. I didn't think a cure would be found to help her, but I did it in her honor, and now in her memory (though I haven't done the relay for several years, I still donate to the American Cancer Society).

Sometimes what happens after a person dies isn't at all related to the person's manner of death, but rather how he or she lived his life, and death is just an impetus for honoring that life.

Such is the case with memorial scholarships, which are a fantastic way to continue someone's legacy.

Unfortunately, I can think of a number of scholarships offered in memory of too many young Harford County residents.

The parents of Adam Thompson, who died April 12, 2011 at age 19 in a car accident, have created two scholarships, one for a Harford Community College student pursuing nursing and one for an Upper Chesapeake Health employee who wants to further his or her nursing career.

The program is just getting started, and a 5K fun run and walk fundraiser is scheduled for April 22 at HCC. Mr. Thompson's mom, Pat, told Aegis reporter Marissa Gallo that already $6,500 has been raised and she hopes to reach $10,000.

Think of just how many people could benefit from $10,000.

"He can't realize his dream, so [we are] helping others realize theirs," Pat Thompson said.

Maybe it's therapeutic for the family, a way to keep Mr. Thompson's memory alive – whatever the reason, it's a wonderful sentiment.

And the $20 or $25 registration fee really isn't a lot of money in the overall scheme of things, especially when all the proceeds are going to charity.

To register for the run or walk, visit http://www.harford.edu/adam or call 443-412-2428.

One of my former co-workers, Chele Schirmer, and her family started a memorial scholarship after the death of her son, Matthew "Hank" Rutherford. He died in December 2007, also in a car accident.

"We wish to extend Matt's legacy through the scholarships provided. In honoring Matt we hope this tragedy will help others," according to the scholarship program's web site.

After Matthew's death, his family wanted to raise money for new weightlifting equipment at Bel Air High, where Matthew had hoped to set a leg lift record before he graduated. They raised so much money, they were able to buy the equipment and with the leftover began the scholarship fund.

Since the first scholarship was presented in 2009 to "students from Bel Air High School who display strong character and aspire to make meaningful contributions to society," the Matthew "Hank" Rutherford Memorial Scholarship Fund has awarded numerous scholarships to students to help them with their college expenses.

Most of today's scholarship recipients didn't know Matthew, who would have graduated five years ago this May. But awarding these scholarships every year is a way to keep his memory alive for his family.

For information on the charity golf tournament that helps fund the scholarship, visit http://www.matthewrutherford.org.

I wish the Thompsons luck as they begin their endeavor to aid nursing students and to the Schirmers and Rutherfords as they continue to help Bel Air High students.

Those are just two examples of what good can come of something tragic. It's unfortunate, because of the circumstances, these scholarships came to be, but it's wonderful being able to help others.

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