It started with one child. A few years in, volunteers began to wonder: Could they help two? It’s been a few more years now.
“So far this year we have helped 13 families and we have a few more that I am getting calls on,” said Jennifer Joye, executive director of Lake Wylie Children’s Charity. “So that is exciting to be able to spread the help to even more that are in need.”
This fall marks 15 years of helping area families, again with a fall concert on the lawn beside T-Bones on the Lake. Bands will plug in and perform. Guests will come by land and by boat. Buckets will pass. And families facing some of the most severe illnesses to impact a child, they’ll benefit.
“Very great people,” said Shannon Rivers, whose 2-year-old son Carson has a rare form of epilepsy impacting about 1 in every 50,000 people. “I am so humbled. They have relieved so much stress. I feel like I can breathe.”
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Lake Wylie Children’s Charity helps families of children facing life-threatening medical conditions. Families can live in any of the three counties surrounding Lake Wylie — York in South Carolina, Gaston and Mecklenburg in North Carolina. Families get financial help for food, clothing, medical bill and visits, transportation and household expenses.
The group has partnerships with medical and social services groups dating back years, but also accepts referrals from the community at large.
The nonprofit began 15 years ago when T-Bones staff and friends gathered to help one of their own whose son, Dakota Gaye, was diagnosed with brain cancer.
Jody Cuningham, a pediatric social worker in Charlotte, sees first-hand what the Lake Wylie nonprofit does. Cuningham couldn’t do her job as well as she does without them.
“We work with children that have congenital heart defects,” she said. “A lot of our families have children that are very sick, and a lot of times they don’t have a lot of resources.”
The children’s charity provides “resources and hope for these families,” from helping with Christmas gifts to housing a family whose trailer burned. Allowing case workers to focus on the medical side of getting families better.
“They’ve kept families from being evicted,” Cuningham said. “They've paid rent. They’ve helped families who needed car seats and strollers, diapers, wipes, bottles. They've kept families from having their lights cut off, their water cut off.”
Sometimes the children’s charity helps on the long road to recovery. Sometimes, they help families through their final days with a child. In cases where time is precious to families, Lake Wylie Children’s Charity organizers don’t want parents having to choose financial obligations over moments with their child.
“I just can't imagine having a child that sick and having to worry with everything,” Cuningham said. “We’ve had a child go through open heart surgery at five days old. We had a child who had a pacemaker placed at one hour old. And then also have to worry about losing my job, being able to put food on the table.”
Rivers doesn’t have to imagine it. Carson is a twin, with an older brother. Three boys age 3 and younger, in a Dallas, N.C., home Rivers keeps together despite Carson’s condition.
“I know that there’s other parents out there,” she said. “But there’s single parents like myself that are doing it alone, and it is overwhelming.”
Carson is legally blind. Born with about 20 percent of his brain undeveloped. He takes medication five times a day. He’s on his 13th prescription. His seizures are resistant to most drugs. Which is why he has between four and 50 of them daily.
“Carson is a twin,” Rivers said. “We first discovered that Carson was having seizures when he was about 3 months old. It’s been downhill from there.”
Carson had a surgery in March. He has another Oct. 5. Doctors are working with something like a pacemaker for his brain.
“We were told that Carson would never walk or talk,” Rivers said. “He can laugh and he can make noises.”
He is walking with special equipment now. He’s trying to crawl. Treatment thus far, all 18 hospital admissions, have helped. But they also drained the family financially. Lake Wylie Children’s Charity stepped in to buy a washer and dryer with the sanitize setting Carson needs, make car payments, pay bills. Rivers still recalls standing in a Wal-Mart on the edge of tears when she learned by text her car would be paid off for her.
“I love him just as much as I love my other children,” Rivers said. “But it’s been a very rough journey. When you love something so much, you do whatever you have to do for it. That’s what I’ve done for Carson, and I keep telling myself there's always light at the end of the tunnel.”
Lake Wylie Children’s Charity is a big reason she has the hope she still does. The fall concert is a big reason the nonprofit can help. In recent years fundraising efforts expanded to poker runs, road races, boating events, golf tournaments and more. On Oct. 14, the second annual Catfishin’ for a Cause fishing tournament launches on Lake Wylie. The same day, a new Octoberfest Charity Skeet Shoot will be held at a site off Jim McCarter Road in Clover.
All to help as many families as the group can, for as long as there are families in need of it.
“I couldn’t be more humbled,” Rivers said.
Want to go?
The 15th annual Lake Wylie Children’s Charity fall benefit concert runs noon to 6 p.m. Oct. 1. The event will be held at the T-Bones on the Lake lawn, featuring bands, a silent auction, concessions, kid zone, bake sale and more. For more, visit lkwchildrenscharity.org or search Lake Wylie Children’s Charity on Facebook.