By Kathryn Millhorn
There are few taboos left anymore but openly grieving the loss of a child seems to be one of them. Mourning an aging parent or friend lost to long-term illness is bittersweet but expected. The death of a toddler in an accident, however, is almost as painful to hear as it is to share. Local moms Cassie Miller and Brynn Johnson have come together through tragedy to reach out in support of families similarly devastated by loss.
On September 16, 2014, 17-month-old Rowyn Johnson died in an automobile accident when Cassie and Brynn were carpooling their children to school. Her sudden and tragic death didn’t drive the two long-time friends apart but united them in grief and the passionate desire, as Brynn explained, “to be doing something, giving back. For the first time in my life I feel like I’m doing God’s work.”
This work became Raise for Rowyn, a charity dedicated to providing for other families coping with the loss of a child. The Johnson’s were stunned at the costs of a funeral and grave marker but wanted something special nonetheless as “it’s the last gift you’ll really be giving your child.” In this case, community members quickly rallied to help with these unexpected bills but Miller and Johnson know that not everyone is similarly blessed.
Miller hopes the charity will expand to “make this our whole life” as they feel “bonded for life in this weird, horrible way.” Their team of volunteers hopes to raise awareness of child loss, breaking the cycle of silence to “use it for something good. It’s the only positive thing to keep us together to try to heal.” Johnson found a heartbreaking lack of awareness and support for such tragedies and strives to reach out to others similarly touched.
The Raise for Rowyn organization now consists of four long-time friends who “hit the ground running” and are amazed that “it’s all happened so quickly” admits Johnson. Initial brainstorming ideas ran the gamut from an annual 5K run to scholarship funding but decided to honor Rowyn by holding an annual Raise for Rowyn event each year in Tenino on the Saturday closest to her birthday.
This year’s celebration will take place on April 18 and starts with a family-friendly, all ages 5K Walk/Run. Race registration is available online with all monies going to families in need. After the race, families can experience a carnival atmosphere with bounce houses, raffles, a petting zoo, and many more free activities. That evening there will be an amazing, sold-out dinner provided by the Lucky Eagle Casino and Hotel with silent and live auctions and emceed by Pastor Jim Ford of the New Day Christian Center. While the event is sold-out, you can still participate by donating to the auction.
The Raise for Rowyn charity consists of loving volunteers who have donated their time and energy to help others in need. Jen Scharber was a day-care provider for the Johnson and Miller children and now handles all social media outreach. Kristi Burke, who also runs the Adam Craig Foundation, helps with the organization’s legal and day-to-day operations. Jen, Kristi, Cassie, and Brynn keep in touch every day, with weekly meetings to stay “very much connected.” Their website was designed and built by Megan Evander, of Ghost Carbon Fiber, a long-time friend and corporate sponsor.
Beyond fundraising, the moms maintain a strong Facebook and Instagram presence. There they make themselves available to families around the region with support, advice, guidance, and resources. Says Johnson, Facebook’s familiar, easy availability helps because “you feel so alone; just having another person reach out helps me and other moms too.”
The poet Rumi once said, “Grief can be the garden of compassion. If you keep your heart open through everything, your pain can become your greatest ally in your life’s search for love and wisdom.”
The unexpected and tragic death of a child can be debilitating for years after the event. Caring souls like Brynn and Cassie show that from loss can spring hope and a legacy that will touch lives for years to come.
Contact Raise for Rowyn via their website or Facebook page about donations, ways to help, or questions regarding upcoming fundraisers.