Raised in the midwestern charm that focuses on neighbors and community, it was only natural that Jennifer Buck would seek to help her friend and fellow mother in a time of tragedy by forming a charitable organization to honor her daughter.
"We met through our children's preschool, and we were both pregnant with our third child," Buck said about her friend Joanne Tarling, who lost her five-month-old daughter, Charlotte, in 2007 to a rare and incurable brain disease called Alexander's Disease.
With their newborns just months apart and an already strong friendship that formed after Buck moved to the Rochester area in 1998, Buck began thinking of a way to do something to help her friend and her family.
"We were very close, and I felt I needed to do something special in her memory," Buck said. "It really rattled our community in Rochester and our group of friends."
For those who came into contact with Charlotte during her short life, there was an overwhelming sense of sadness and sense of helplessness from her suffering and loss. To cope, Buck worked with the family to create a way to honor Charlotte. They decided to donate hundreds of children's books to a local hospital in tribute of Charlotte, founding the non-profit Charlotte's Wings.
"It started with three partners who actually knew Charlotte," said Buck, who serves as executive director of the organization. Those assisting her included members of her own family, as well as Tarling's. "It's somewhat of a family affair, as well as for Charlotte's family. We also started a leadership council that gives an opportunity for high school students to get involved and donate service hours."
Over the past eight years, Charlotte's Wings has expanded from donations to one hospital, Royal Oak Beaumont, to working with more than 60 different partners. Today, the organization donates thousands of books to hospitals across Michigan for patients and families in hospitals and hospice care, during and beyond their stay. The organization also donates magazine subscriptions, journals and workbooks to specialist outpatient clinics and other organizations during a time of health challenge.
"For something so tragic, it's also been very fulfilling and comforting to know that there are people out there who want to help and do good things," Buck said. "Through this experience, we feel a strong sense of community, even though we support hospitals across the state. A lot of support comes from the communities in Rochester and Bloomfield."
Buck said what started as a few contacts made by her to some area hospitals has grown to dozens of partners. Now, she said, there are several clinics and hospitals that contact her on a regular basis asking if there are books available.
"That was a real surprise – most don't get funding for books," she said. "Initially, donations were more recreational books, and a variety of books for a variety of ages for a distraction. Once we got more involved with hospitals, they started contacting us for different needs in different departments.
"We are asked for books about bereavement, as well as eating disorders and medical conditions, like diabetes," she said. "We will provide those, as long as it's in line with our mission and supports kids in some capacity, but the bereavement and grief are a big chunk of what we support."
Photo: Laurie Tennent