By: Tara Kerrigan Hayes (Photo by Julie Ryan Photography)
A special fundraising event was held on Tuesday, April 2, at Capo Restaurant’s Supper Club on West Broadway. Fittingly called Neighborhood Night at Capo, neighbors and loved ones showed up by the hundreds in a remarkable turnout to support Colin’s Joy Project, and to pay tribute to an inspiring family aiming to transform their grief into a legacy of joy and giving.
After the tragic death of their son, Colin, (just shy of his third birthday), parents Kerri and Brendan McGrath initiated Colin’s Joy Project, an organization dedicated to building and enhancing play spaces as well as sponsoring children and family programming in the community, particularly for families in need.
Colin’s Joy Project has grown both rapidly and organically from what began as a simple GoFundMe page. An interview with Colin’s mother, Kerri, reveals the transformation of the project since inception, and their hopes to better the lives of other families for years to come.
“At the urging and encouragement of the community we started a GoFundMe Page, and it just simply exploded”, says Kerri. “The original goal was to build a playground, but we thought about how we’d feel after we cut the ribbon and walked away, and we knew it needed to be more than just one playground, but also a way for Colin to continue to be in our lives by continuously bringing joy to families”.
When reflecting on Colin’s short but poignant life, his parents realized much of their favorite memories revolved around play groups, story times, and music groups, many of which they had paid for. This inspired the goal of affording families without the financial means the opportunity to enjoy those same moments. “We wanted to offer them not just a place to play, but a way to play – something sustainable”.
But it wasn’t until the holidays were looming – in what would be their first Christmas without their Colin – that the project really began to take shape. “We needed to buy Christmas gifts for a three-year-old boy, to help fill the painful void”, Kerri said. That’s when they discovered the South Boston Neighborhood House (aka The Ollie) to support a family in need at Christmas, as well as Julie’s Family Learning Center, where at-risk mothers can receive free education, job training, and life skills (including daycare services). Both organizations rely on private funding and both offer specific programs for disadvantaged families. It was in that same spirit of giving that Colin’s Joy Project was born and found a home, and the project took flight from there.
The tremendously successful Neighborhood Night raised a staggering 70,000 with the help of many volunteers who donated both time and goods, in what would prove to be an event that would exceed everyone’s expectations. In addition to raffles, silent auctions and a pop-up shop, there was a “Hands Up Auction”, officiated by Tom Tinlin, whose charisma, wit and enthusiasm inspired the already generous crowd to gladly reach deeper into their pockets. Still, it wasn’t the monetary gifts as much as the overwhelming turnout that touched the McGrath’s hearts.
“The most special part of the night was the support we felt, which spanned so many generations and backgrounds”, says Kerri. “The outpouring of love in the room was palpable, and representative of all the support we’ve felt along the way. It’s exactly that kind of support that we hope to emulate by giving back to the community that’s been there for us, as part of Colin’s legacy”.
But for guests, the most profound moments were the heartfelt speeches delivered by Colin’s family, including both parents, Kerri and Brendan McGrath, who have displayed insurmountable courage and grace in the wake of unfathomable grief, as well as the video created by Kerri’s brother, Tom Palamara, giving us an intimate glimpse into the vibrant spirit of Colin himself.
Snippets of Colin singing, “You Are My Sunshine” elicited both tears and smiles from the crowd, many of us who had never met the little boy but prayed for him, mourned him and will continue to hold him in our hearts. The video closed with a clip of Colin laughing; an infectious, raw, jubilant belly giggle that rippled through the room spreading waves of the kind of unique joy that transcends sorrow – even if just for a moment – as we were able to bear witness to this special little soul who touched many lives, will be long remembered, and leaves behind a lasting legacy of love.
To donate or to learn more about Colin’s Project and their partners, go to: www.colinsjoyproject.org