Losing a child is one of the toughest trials a parent can ever face. Kayla and Clay Johnson, who lost their daughter Zoe hours after her birth in 2004, wanted to turn their loss into something positive for other grieving parents.
They founded the nonprofit Zoe Foundation in 2009 in Savannah to help families deal with the financial burdens brought on by the loss of a baby. The group also pairs parents with support groups in their area.
"The Zoe Foundation helps pay for burials and cremation expenses for children up to 2 years of age," said Danielle Fulton, secretary for the foundation.
"I am the only employee here at our headquarters in Savannah, but we operate in five states (Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, South Carolina and Indiana).
"The representatives in each state are responsible for their own fundraising and coordinating support services and payments to funeral homes," she said.
The Savannah group will host the second annual Summer Sizzler 5K on July 13 at J.C. Cannon Fields on Wilmington Island. The race begins at 8 a.m.
According the Fulton, this year's race will be a little different from last year.
"We decided not to host a post-race party because no one stayed for the party last year," she said. "Apparently if you don't serve alcohol, everyone would rather go on home."
Despite the failed after-party, the race is expected to grow this year with the addition of a team competition.
"We have three teams signed up," Fulton said. "We are also hosting a post-race awards presentation with awards for most team spirit, most participants and most funds raised.
Last year, we had about 200 people sign up, and we think it will be closer to 300 this year."
One of the teams registered for the event is Team Caleb's Project.
Kim Zellner, the team captain and founder of Caleb's Project, said her group tries to do an event every year, "so this year, we are doing this (race).
"Caleb was our little boy," Zellner said. "Caleb passed away July 28, 2009. I decided to do the Walk to Remember (sponsored by the Zoe Foundation) in October - I was very nervous.
"It was really strange, because I didn't know anything about the Zoe Foundation and then I met Clay and Kayla, and realized we knew each other ... and I've been involved ever since."
Zellner now sits on the board for the foundation and she has recruited about 16 people to be on her team for the race.
"The team is composed of some of the people who have helped me in the past," Zellner said.
Despite a recent foot surgery, she still plans to do as much as she can to support the foundation's event.
"It's such a good organization ... and you want people to know about it," Zellner said. "Everything happens so quickly, especially with a miscarriage, so it's important to get the word out.
"The Zoe Foundation will even go back and help needy families recoup past expenses on burials if needed, so people just now learning about the foundation can still come for help," she said.
"We were blessed to have the finances to take care of our expenses," she said.
"I can't even imagine having to deal with that kind of loss and not being able to do what you think is best and be able to bury your child in a way that gives you peace.
"The biggest goal we have is to let people know the Zoe Foundation exists," Zellner said. "I'm just so impressed with the work they do and it helps me to be involved."
IF YOU GO
What: Seconnd annual Summer Sizzler 5K benefiting Zoe Foundation
Where: J.C. Cannon Fields, Wilmington Island
When: 8 a.m. July 13
Cost: $30 race-day registration