A life, regardless of the days spent on this earth, can create a legacy and touch the lives of many others in the future. Such is the story of Kari Schoondyke, a beautiful little girl born on Aug. 13, 2008. Kari underwent her second open-heart surgery at the age of 7 months. She passed away on April 7, 2009, forever changing the lives of so many people.
Five days after Kari’s birth, Jeff and Jennifer Schoondyke found themselves packing a bag quickly and hitting the road to Philadelphia to prepare for Kari’s surgery. When Kari was nine days old, she underwent her first open heart surgery. Suddenly, there were decisions to be made quickly about traveling, lodging, meals and emotional support.
It was the Schoondyke’s time spent at the hospital that made them realize the financial burdens caring for a sick child can place on a family. They witnessed the hard choices some parents have to make - to be with their sick child, or return home to keep a job, insurance and housing.
Expenses can quickly add up when lodging, food, gas for transportation and basic necessities are required for long hospital stays, along with normal household bills.
Jennifer recalls the flowers, food, prayers and messages sent from friends and people they had never met, and realized they wanted to give back and help others. Because of their experience with Kari, the Schoondykes created Kari’s Heart Foundation, Inc., to provide support to families in similar situations with a variety of financial and personal needs.
Kari’s Heart Foundation provides “Karing” Bags filled with essential items, such as toothbrushes, an inflatable pillow, snacks, and other items for the family while in the hospital. In addition to helping local families as they travel for a child’s medical care, a bag is also given to every family at the Ronald McDonald House in Johnson City.
The foundation will assist with transportation, temporary housing, clothing, food and other requests as submitted. Since it started in 2009, the foundation has provided approximately 403 Karing Bags, 168 nights in hotels, $15,825 in gas, $58,692 in meals and thousands of prayers.
“Every small thing makes a difference, a thoughtful text, kind words in a card, prayers and just knowing people are there to support you and your family. We appreciated everything and want to give back in Kari’s memory,” said Jennifer Schoondyke.
In honor of Kari’s birthday each year, the “Karing Fair” is held as a family event fundraiser for the foundation. This year, the event will take place on Aug. 17 at Winged Deer Park from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. There will be a Kare-Bear Bike Ride – a 25-mile or 60-mile ride – beginning at 8 a.m. A $35 registration fee includes T-shirt, water bottle and lunch. A Karing Fair 5K starts at 9 a..m. with a $20 registration fee per runner and includes a T-shirt. A volleyball fundraiser will be held with check-in at 7:45 a.m. Each team must consist of 4 to 6 people per co-ed team, and early registration, until Aug. 10, is $5 per person. Registration on the day of the event is available, but early registration is encouraged.
This fundraising event is for the entire family and, for only $5, children can have unlimited fun on inflatables and various kids activities. There will also be food vendors on site throughout the day donating proceeds from their sales.
For more information on how to donate funds, to request assistance, or make a referral, contact Kari’s Heart Foundation at 423-913-1171, email firstname.lastname@example.org, visit http://www.karisheartfoundation.org or “Like” Kari’s Heart Foundation, Inc., on Facebook.