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updated: 1/8/2013 3:47 PM

0'Laughlin family buries sorrow in charity

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  • From left, John O'Laughlin, family friend Wesley Cramer, Brenda O'Laughlin and Bridgette Douglas.

      From left, John O'Laughlin, family friend Wesley Cramer, Brenda O'Laughlin and Bridgette Douglas.
    Courtesy of the 0'Laughlin family

 
By Eileen O. Daday
Daily Herald correspondent

Officials with Maryville Academy still are talking about the family that arrived on the days leading up to Christmas -- at three of their locations -- bearing nearly three dozen gifts for the children and young adults they serve.

John Gorman, a spokesman for Maryville, said the presents and their visit came at a welcome time.

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"Many of our children feel isolated over the holidays because they have been abused and abandoned by their families," said Gorman of their facilities in Des Plaines, Bartlett and Chicago.

It turns out that the family that came had sadness of their own to overcome. John and Brenda O'Laughlin continue to work through their grief over the death of their 14-year-old daughter, Kelli, who was found murdered a little more than one year ago, in their home in West suburban Indian Head Park.

Kelli was a freshman at Lyons Township High School, who competed on the tennis team and loved to help with service projects. As the younger of two daughters in the family, her loss has created tremendous sorrow.

"To be frank, this helps us too," John O'Laughlin said. "To be busy and doing good work in her name keeps our minds from wandering into the tragic loss we have suffered."

The couple started the Kelli Joy O'Laughlin Memorial Fund, which keeps their daughter's memory alive through scholarships and various fundraising events, including the "Run for Kelli" at Lyons Township High School, which drew more than 1,000 participants.

"After that event, Brenda and I felt a bit of a vacuum from all the activities and planning," John O'Laughlin says.

In the end, Brenda O'Laughlin decided she needed another project and with the holidays approaching, she decided to buy presents for children whom she figured might be overlooked. With the success of their November run, she had plenty of funds to use.

Working with her older daughter, Bridgette, they started close to their home, purchasing 28 gifts for the young people who live at the Illinois Masonic Children's Home in LaGrange, but soon the couple expanded to include Maryville.

They had worked through officials at each of Maryville's facilities to secure lists of gifts wanted by their young clients. At the home in Bartlett for teenage girls, it seems many of them asked for items to help decorate their rooms.

"It felt very good to bring some Christmas cheer to these young ladies," Brenda O'Laughlin said. "They invited us back any time to have dinner with them. It was also nice to see some of them head off to the library to study as soon as we were done with our visit."

They had a similar experience with the teenage boys living at Maryville in Des Plaines, before heading to Maryville's Children's Healthcare Facility in Chicago, which serves youngsters with complex, long term medical needs.

"When Kelli was still with us, she was so excited about buying presents for underprivileged children to help them have a better Christmas," Brenda O'Laughlin says. "This gives us a chance to carry on that tradition."

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