“It takes a village to raise a child” – Proverb
Losing a child is a fear that grips my heart at night. On April 15, 2018, Julie Anthony unexpectedly lost her granddaughter, Aspen. “Aspen was born in August 2017 and she had the sweetest disposition, a soft little laugh and a bit of a lazy eye that had not yet been corrected,” Anthony shared. “I struggle to talk about her in the past tense. For 233 days, we were able to hold her and love her, and then she was called home to heaven, leaving our family devastated.”
Anthony is the director of Auction for Aspen, a small shop charitable initiative she launched in September 2018. “In July of 2018, I went to Uganda for two weeks as part of a short term mission with Imani Milele Children. I had committed to the mission trip months before losing Aspen. After her passing, I almost backed out of the trip, but I am so grateful that I followed through,” she recalled. “During the two weeks I spent in Uganda, I saw a need like nothing I had ever seen before. I interacted with children who had experienced loss and hardships that were heartbreaking, yet the smiles on their faces and joy in their eyes were infectious. I was early in my own grief, just over three months, and being with these children brought me comfort. I was longing to hold, nurture and care for a grandchild I had recently lost, and these children needed someone to love and support them. We just seemed like a match. I had to do something. The two weeks I was there working wasn’t enough. I saw a need; I couldn’t just forget about it.”
Upon her return home, Anthony decided to raise funds to construct a classroom building in honor of Aspen. “ I told my husband I had a crazy idea of wanting to raise $30,000 to fund a classroom building in memory of Aspen but no plan on how I would ever raise that much money. I then talked to my daughter to see how she would feel about honoring Aspen’s life in this manner, and when she began to cry and told me she would love it, I knew even though I didn’t have a plan, we had to do this.” Anthony’s vision later expanded to three buildings. “But I still had no idea how we were going to raise the money.”
Inspired by her sister Elizabeth, a small shop owner, and with encouragement from her sister Kim (“my biggest supporter and partner in this endeavor”), Anthony launched an Instagram auction with a goal of raising $3,000. “The response was incredible, and we raised $10,000! We had never intended to host more than one auction, but we just finished our third and plan to host another one in the Fall,” said Anthony. “The outpouring of support was so overwhelming. There were small shop owners asking what more they could do, telling me they were so honored to be involved, asking for updates, and quite frankly, sending so much love that it cushioned the hole in my heart that Aspen left. These were strangers. People who read Aspen’s story and were willing to generously rally behind our family. They were willing to join alongside us as we honor Aspen’s life and change the lives of some other children. I have been moved to tears by this wonderful community of small shops. The people behind these shops have warmed my heart and brought tears to my eyes so many times. They will never know the depths of my gratitude.”
Construction in Uganda is already progressing. “In January, construction began on what will be the first of three buildings in the classroom block of the school. With funds from our most recent auction, we now have the money needed to fund the second building in the classroom block. Construction on that building began last Wednesday. Once all three classroom buildings are completed, we will begin funding restrooms, teachers’ quarters, dorms, a kitchen and dining facility, a sick bay, an administration building and a security fence. It’s a huge undertaking, but with each person that joins alongside us, the task seems less daunting.”
This small shop community is incredible. How can you get involved? Anthony offered the following suggestions:
1. Direct tax-deductible donations can be made here. Imani Milele Children is a 501(3)(c), so donations for both businesses and individuals can be tax-deductible.
2. Anthony is hosting another Instagram auction this Fall. She needs more small shop donors and help promoting this event. Anthony is also looking for interested shops willing to start their own campaigns on Aspen’s behalf. For example, @theknottedcrown approached her about launching a bow in its shop with the proceeds going to this project. Anthony will promote all fundraising endeavors and the shops that host them.
3. And, finally, Anthony is looking for 24 groups of people (i.e., shops that band together, school groups, families, churches, etc.) that will try to raise $6,250 each. She recognizes this is a big ask, but it will go a really long way. $6,250 is what it will cost to build a small house in Uganda. There are 24 teachers, so she needs 24 small houses. Anthony is hoping some groups will “adopt” a teacher and raise the necessary funds to provide them with a house.
Please consider joining Anthony’s village and making a donation of any kind in honor of Aspen. May her memory be a blessing.