Emma Blu Harvin was a sweet and loving little girl who passed away in 2012 from an unexpected illness.
She was born with Down syndrome, and her parents, Allyson and Blu Harvin, became involved with the Lowcountry Down Syndrome Society in Savannah. Emma Blu touched the lives of so many people with her big smile and loving heart, they said.
Do Savannah had a chance to talk with Allyson about the third annual Memory Run for Emma Blu, set for 2 p.m. Jan. 4.
After Emma Blu's unexpected passing, the Harvins decided they wanted to give back to the community.
"My husband, Blu, and I were so amazed and humbled by the outpouring of love, prayers and support we received during Emma Blu's illness and passing that we jump at any opportunity to pay that forward," Allyson said.
So many people reached out to the Harvins that they were overjoyed from the compassion. Friends cried with them and brought over food, others were prayer warriors and still others ran with them.
"The runners in my C.R.E.W. running group organized a memory run. Victoria Ten Broeck and Maressa Torres organized the first run just a month after Emma Blu's death, with the proceeds raised through donations and silent auction proceeds going to the Lowcountry Down Syndrome Society.
"The next year, Blu and I got involved and we moved it to the first Sunday after her birthday, Jan. 4. This year's run will fall on her actual birthday. She would have been turning 7," Allyson said.
The interesting story behind the Emma Blu Memory Run is that there are no tickets sold, no fees associated and no charge for the event. Unlike many other charity runs, this run truly is a reunion for the couple's extended Savannah family.
Those who wish to donate to Lowcountry Down Syndrome Society can do so at www.ldssga.org.
"Every year, we reach out to see if there is enough interest to keep going and the answer this year was a resounding yes. There are no fees and the run/walk is not timed. It started as way to show support to us during a very painful time," Allyson said.
"The next year, it was like a reunion for all the people that Emma Blu brought into our lives: The speech, occupational and physical therapists and special educators, as well as her teachers at her pre-school, Sunday school, her soccer teammates and on and on.
"People that became like family," she said. "People that we would have lost when we lost her if not for something like the memory run. Then, there are people like Robert Espinoza of Fleet Feet who continue to lend a hand with whatever help they can offer, whether it is equipment, time, support and publicity."
The Harvins know how difficult parenting is, especially for a child who has special needs.
One of the biggest fears any parent has is losing a child. Allyson had advice for other parents out there who need support.
"Well, I've always said that you don't stop parenting a child just because that child dies. Emma Blu had Down syndrome. While that certainly didn't define her, it was a part of who she was," she said.
"We see staying connected to the Lowcountry Down Syndrome Society and helping financially with the programs that Emma Blu benefited from, like Buddy Walk and Camp Buddy, as our way of continuing to 'raise' her ... by being committed to educate and advocate for a world where every person born into it has a place to live, grow, love, contribute and thrive."
One of the benefactors of the run is Camp Buddy, which offers reinforced skills during the summer.
"Most of the kids that Lowcountry Down Syndrome Society serves receive their therapies and special education through the public school system," she said.
Another benefactor is the Night of Champions. Since 2010, LDSS hosts an annual night of recognition for those with Down syndrome who are working and contributing to their communities.
"I took over as the chairperson in 2012 and we have grown by about 100 attendees every year. This isn't a fundraising event; it's all about getting the message out to local employers that there is a virtually untapped labor pool with proven bottom line business results, including lowering costs, absenteeism and turnover."
Allyson also spoke about courage and strength.
"People often speak of our strength. Which is usually followed with the admission, 'I could never do what y'all do.'
"The truth is, we are not any stronger than anyone else. We walk this journey one step at a time, lean hard into each other and even harder into God," she said.
"But on those days, like standing in Daffin Park early in January looking into the faces of all the people who gave up their Sunday afternoons for us, for her, it makes it a little easier."