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Angels Of ’97 Continues To Remember Students Who Were Lost Too Soon

By Mike Savicki   This is a story that should never be written. It is a story of loss, emptiness, despair and grief. It is a story of how five families were forced to cope with the unimaginable reality of losing loved ones. And it is the story of how an entire community was forced to pause, reflect and ask “why?”   Yet is also a story of hope, fulfillment, healing and opportunity. From these tragedies, opportunity arose, lives gained new meaning and a unique and multi-faceted organization was founded. During a two-year period leading up to their graduation, five members of North Mecklenburg High School’s Class of 1997 died in a series of unrelated and unexpected events. The face of a class changed, and a community embraced its newest angels.   The first, Travis Childers, died of complications resulting from a long struggle with Leukemia. The second and third, Mandi Meador and Laura Barnette, perished on the quiet road that joined the homes of these two best friends. The fourth, Calvin Keziah, died as a passenger in a car that struck a deer. And the fifth, Kancham Potts, was lost in a car accident during an out-of-town holiday visit with family. Their graduation day never arrived.   In the months following these tragic events, Sherry Harkey and Laura Bolton, the mothers of Mandi Meador and Laura Barnette, were approached with the idea of hosting a dinner to honor their daughters and raise funds for a scholarship to be given in their honor. The mothers agreed and additionally chose to honor the other classmates who were lost before graduation. As the event began to take shape, the mothers realized that they could do something meaningful and lasting by forming an organization that would help honor the lives of their children and give back to future generations. The idea for Angels of ’97 was born.   “As you go through your daily life, you are surrounded by angels,” said Sherry Harkey. “They are always around you and watch over everything you do. We wanted to do something that helped us through our grieving and kept the spirit of our children alive. ‘Angels’ would be a wonderful way for everyone to remember that, while our children were physically gone, they are still with us through faith.”   The first dinner was held in 1997 and raised over $5,000. The money was then given in scholarships to graduating students of North Mecklenburg High School. The dinner has since been held annually for nearly a decade and has raised over $150,000.   “Mandi always loved the stage and wanted to see her name in lights,” added Sherry Harkey. “Each year at the dinner, when so many new people see her face and hear her name mentioned, I realize that her dream has come true. It is remarkable to see how many new people meet her.”   In 2004, Angels of ’97 expanded by initiating a golf tournament to help remember both the lives of the five original angels and those additional students who have been lost in subsequent years. The event has grown, and all funds raised during the day are given as scholarships. Cami Meador, the younger sister of Mandi, is the 2006 tournament organizer.   “Being involved with Angels and the golf tournament has taught me how to deal with my emotions and how to cope with my loss,” she said. “By working with the golfers each year, I receive validation for my emotions and positive feelings about being a sibling who has lost someone important. While the golf tournament only happens once a year, it stays with me all the time, almost like another job I love.”   What makes this tournament unique is that each hole is dedicated to a child or children who died at a young age. Their photo and story of their life is present with a hole dedication sign designed by their family members for every golfer to see at each tee.   In 2004, Angels of ’97 added a faith-based ministry to their outreach. Laura Bolton, who leads the group, stated, “Almost two years ago we arrived at a stage in our own grief journey where we realized it was important for us to reach out to others who were experiencing similar pains and do something to help them. We wanted to do more than provide scholarships. I always believed that something good would come from the tragic night when we lost Laura and Mandi. The ministry became that source of goodness.” She added, “It is so important for a parent who has lost a child to know that their child will not be forgotten and their memory will live on. I believe that we have captured that through our ministry, and while it is difficult to accept, our lives grow as we learn more about the lives that were lost, why we struggle and how we work to understand why it happened.”   “It’s amazing the lives you touch without realizing it,” said Cami Meador. Looking ahead, what may be even more amazing are the lives these angels will enrich and enlighten from our community.  
This article was originally published in the September 2006 edition of Lake Norman Magazine.    
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