In a matter of two weekends, a Tenino-based nonprofit has raised more than $200,000 to boost its mission of assisting families after the death of a child.
Raise for Rowyn, a local charity that helps families pay final medical bills and funeral costs, held its third annual 5K run earlier this month in Tenino. That followed an auction the previous weekend, when hundreds of supporters went to the Lucky Eagle Casino for the charity’s largest fundraising event of the year.
“The amount of support has grown as we have grown,” Raise for Rowyn executive director Jen Scharber said.
Raise for Rowyn was founded three years ago by Brynn Johnson after her 17-month-old daughter Rowyn was killed when accidentally hit by a vehicle in her driveway. As a way to honor her memory, Johnson, along with family friend Cassie Miller, decided to raise money to help other families facing the death of a child. Scharber had been Rowyn’s nanny.
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Its growth since then has been dramatic. This year’s auction raised $160,000 for the charity, Scharber said. An additional $50,000 was raised from the run Saturday, Scharber said. The nonprofit already has helped more than 114 families across the state and 17 families in other states with expenses following the death of a child. The success of their fundraisers means the number of families helped will increase, as will the amount given to each family.
“Helping locally,” Scharber said, “that is really where our focus is.”
Families also connect through a Raise for Rowyn Facebook page for emotional support, Scharber said. A private Facebook community was created as a place where families can support one another through difficult times, such as birthdays and anniversaries of a child’s death. Photos and names of the children are posted on the charity’s online “wall of angels.”
“Thanks so much for Raise for Rowyn; they helped us with our daughter’s memorial services,” Heidi Knight of Oakville said on Raise for Rowyn’s Facebook page. “Without them we could not have done it.”
The nonprofit’s fundraisers not only raised more money, they attracted more participants. This year, the run was held in Tenino City Park instead of on a few side streets, and 1,000 people walked or ran.
The 10K course went out to the cemetery where Rowyn is buried, Scharber said. People stopped to kneel and pray at her grave.
But Scharber said something happened at the auction this year that she will carry in her memory forever.
Brad Tower, the father of the three children who died in a house fire in Centralia in March 2016, spoke about his experience. He’s a member of the organization’s board.
“He is a very inspiring person,” she said.
A number of smaller events are scheduled throughout the year, including a special day with the Tacoma Rainiers in July; a ride of remembrance for Sam Tower, one of Brad Tower’s children, in May; and a golf tournament at the Olympia Golf and Country Club in September.