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River Valley community holds concert to benefit Justin's Fund

Since her son was killed during a severe thunderstorm at River Valley Ranch in July, Antoinette Benns says the support from the River Valley community has been overwhelming.

The support for Benns and her family continued Friday night a short drive away from the Manchester Christian summer camp.


More than 80 people visited Java Vault Cafe in Manchester Friday night to support Justin's Fund in honor of 12-year-old Justin Diggs, who died July 8 when a severe thunderstorm swept through the North Carroll area.

After watching a few videos of Justin's time at the camp with counselors Friday, Benns reiterated her appreciation for the support from River Valley staff.


"As Justin would say, 'That was awesome,'" Benns said.

Justin, a Pikesville Middle School student, was killed when a tree fell on him during the violent storm. Eight other children attending camp were also injured.

Former River Valley Ranch counselor and staff member May Novalis led the organizing of the event, featuring music from current and former River Valley staffers, to show support for Justin's family.

Novalis said the turnout and community support was "perfect."

"I knew that I may not have a lot of money to donate, but I felt that I could help raise funds and raise awareness for the fund," she said.

Java Vault Cafe, located about 20 minutes away from River Valley Ranch, donated 10 percent of the proceeds Friday night to Justin's Fund.

Proceeds from the fund, set up by River Valley Ranch shortly after the tragedy, go directly to Justin's family.

River Valley Ranch Executive Director Jon Bisset said it was inspiring to see current and former staff members plan and support the event.


"For them to do this on their own, unprovoked by us, just makes it even more special," he said. "This shows the character of staffers at River Valley Ranch."

River Valley Ranch has been forever changed by the July tragedy, Bisset said, but the support from the community and from around the country has helped staff get through a "very emotional" summer.

"Justin will always be a part of our camp," he said.

The summer camp offers programs and camps of varying lengths and themes for children ages 7 to 17.

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Novalis' brother, Young, is a graphic designer at River Valley and joined his sister for the first musical set of the night.

He described the event as a great opportunity for River Valley to come together and show love for one another.


"We're a tight-knit family," he said of the River Valley Ranch community. "It's not just business relationships, they're real relationships. We really care about each other."

Since July 8, Young Novalis said counselors and staffers have been doing about as well as can be expected following such a tragedy.

"Staff has come together and really supported each other," he said.

Those unable to attend Friday's concert can donate to Justin's Fund through the River Valley Ranch website at

Reach staff writer Blair Ames at 410-412-4880 or