How the Angels saved me and so many others
by Staff Writer
April 7, 1995 was the first day of the rest of my life. On that night at 10:43 p.m., my daughter, Laura Barnette and her best friend, Mandi Meador were involved in a tragic automobile accident on Kerns Road.
I remember at some point during the wee hours of that dreaded night telling a close friend that some good would come from this accident. I also remember thinking if I could help just one person because of what I was going through, then I would be able to survive without my best friend – my only child.
I have been able to see both of these things happen through the Angels of ’97, a group originally founded after five North Mecklenburg High School students were killed in different accidents. This organization is the good that has happened because of the tragedies of the North Meck class of 1997.
One of the greatest fears of a bereaved parent is our child will be forgotten. Because of our scholarship program, we have been able to keep Laura’s memory as well the memories of her classmates alive while helping others achieve their dreams. We have provided scholarships to around 132 young adults from North Mecklenburg and Hopewell high schools. This year we will offer scholarships to Hough High as well.
While I am thrilled about the number of young adults we have helped through scholarships, my passion is the ministries part of our organization. Reaching out to other bereaved parents is so important to them, but also helps me in my healing process. It is vital to all of us as we learn to cope with life without our precious child. Along with our five original Angels we have “adopted” around 60 other children and have tried to reach out to their families with compassion and understanding.
We are not professional counselors, we are just bereaved parents that get it and understand what the other parents are going through. During our monthly meetings, we share our stories and memories about our children and we listen. We laugh; we cry and we never judge anyone for their thoughts or feelings.
Because we are a faith-based organization, we cling to the knowledge that our children are together in heaven and we will be with them again one day. My friend, Julie Gaddy, has often said we helped save her life after the death of her daughter Kate in 2000. I am not sure about saving her life – we were just there for her and understood her pain.
Another parent, Julie Coppick said she had attended other support groups that included others that had suffered the death of a parent or spouse, but they weren’t the same as being with someone that had experienced the pain of the death of a child. We have grown to love her and grieve with her as we listen about her precious Nate.
Jo Markham’s son, Matt was a graduate of the Class of ’97. He knew our original Angels. He even attended Laura and Mandi’s funerals. Matt died in December 1998. Jo, too, has thanked us for being there for her.
Our organization watched Daniel Latimer grow up. He was only around 5-years-old when Laura and Mandi had their accident. His parents were their youth advisors at Huntersville Baptist Church and loved our girls dearly. They were so supportive of us. Growing up, Daniel attended and volunteered at every Spaghetti Dinner. In July 2008, he and his close friend, Tad, died in an automobile accident on Kerns Road. Their accident was about half a mile north of Laura and Mandi’s. Suddenly Sherry Harkey, Mandi’s mom, and I were reaching out to Daniel’s mom, Melody Wood, and his dad, Gary Latimer, as they had reached out to us 13 years earlier. We understood their pain and hopefully were able to help them as they had helped us. In honor of Daniel, our volunteers wear orange shirts, his favorite color, at the spaghetti dinner.
If someone had told me on April 7, 1995 that some day I would be able to lead a support group and speak openly about our tragedy, I would not have believed them. The journey of a bereaved parent is a lifelong one full of many ups and downs. It is so important to be with others that know what it is like to walk in our shoes.
Angels of ’97 events upcoming
The Angels of ’97 will hold March 17 its 16th annual spaghetti dinner and auction and the second annual 5K Race, Walk and Family Fun Run. For more information on the group and its events visit www.angelsof97.com.
Jane Bolton is the mother of one of the first Angels of 97 and has been a volunteer with the organization for many years.