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Declan Sullivan Memorial Fund helps youth

Megan Doyle | Monday, October 29, 2012

Jocelyn. Emari. Alexander. DeJon. Micah. Sophia.

These children are just six students at the Chicago non-profit Horizons for Youth, which provides need-based scholarships, long-term one-on-one mentoring and enrichment programs to area children. These children are just six students among Declan’s 40, a group of new students admitted to the Horizons for Youth program because of support from the Declan Drumm Sullivan Memorial Fund.

Declan Sullivan died October 27, 2010, after a video tower from which he was filming football practice fell. He was double-majoring in marketing and Film, Television and Theatre, and was a student videographer for the football team. Saturday marked the second anniversary of his death.

Barry Sullivan, Declan’s father, said the family wanted to put the outpouring of donations they received after his son’s death to good use in their community. The Sullivan family established the Declan Drumm Sullivan Memorial Fund and chose Horizons for Youth as its primary beneficiary last year.

“This was a kind of generosity, it caught us off guard,” Barry said. “We sat down and we talked about the things that mattered to us as a family and the things that we knew were important to Declan, and we came up with a set of criteria for a memorial fund. It included education, supporting the local community, things that would have an immediate impact in the local community.”

Horizons for Youth emerged as a perfect fit for the Sullivan family. The program’s founders graduated from Benet Academy, where Barry and his wife Alison attended high school, and its address is right next door to Old St. Patrick’s Church, where the couple was married and baptized all three of their children.

Most importantly, the program’s mission was one Barry said his son would have appreciated.

“[Declan] had a great interest in film, and I know he was doing a lot of writing. … He was coming to appreciate the benefits that he had, the kind of education that was allowing him to achieve his dreams,” Barry said.

“That’s what we really appreciate about Horizons, and Declan would appreciate this. It’s giving children who probably would not have the opportunity to have that kind of success, giving them the support they need to achieve those things. … I think Dec would approve of what we’re doing.”

The family hosted the first annual “No Ordinary Evening” fundraiser to support Horizons for Youth in April at Navy Pier in Chicago. The proceeds from the fundraiser allowed the program to admit Declan’s 40, which according to the website of Horizons for Youth is the largest group to be accepted to the program at one time. The names of these students are listed on the Horizons for Youth website.

Barry and his daughter Wyn were able to sit through some of the interviews involved in the rigorous application process for Horizons for Youth applicants. He said he was impressed with the way the organization tries to admit students with families interested in furthering their children’s educations but often are lacking the means to do so.

“One of their criteria is to identify students who really do have the kind of family support that will allow them to succeed, and then they augment that with the kind of mentoring and tutoring with these kids that would ensure their success,” he said.

The Sullivan family met many of the students admitted to the program with Declan’s 40 at a picnic to begin the school year. A group of students from the Horizons for Youth program also traveled to the Notre Dame football game against BYU last weekend.

Two years later, Barry said the memory of his son’s death still hurts. A member of his family is missing. But seeing the immediate impact of the funds donated in Declan’s memory is “a very positive thing,” Barry said.

“I do think about that but for our loss, we would not have gotten connected with Horizons, and out of a very saddening and painful experience for us, something positive can come out of that,” he said. “We’re working with the children and seeing the impact. There’s no pain in that. It actually helps to [alleviate] the pain we feel after that loss.”

On Saturday, Barry said his wife and youngest son remembered Declan with Mass at Old St. Patrick’s Church in Chicago. Their daughter Wyn, a junior at Notre Dame, is currently studying abroad in Dublin.

“We spent the evening with some friends who toasted to Declan’s memory with us, and we watched a Notre Dame victory,” Barry said. “So we tried to do things that were in keeping, we try to celebrate his memory. … I’m sure [Wyn] was remembering her brother. She asked us to remember her as we are remembering him, as we were toasting his memory.”

The family has already begun planning the second annual “No Ordinary Evening” fundraiser. The event will take place in April at Navy Pier in Chicago.

“Throughout all of this, we’ve enjoyed a lot of support from the whole Notre Dame family,” Barry said. “The University administration has been very good to us. I guess I would just like to say that we really appreciate all the thoughts and prayers that we have felt from the Notre Dame family.”

Alison, Declan’s mom, said in an email that she and her husband received texts from friends with photos of Declan’s campus memorial near the Guglielmino Athletics Complex with a sign that read “For Dec” on Saturday afternoon and evening.

“At night, the site was lit up brilliantly with candles,” she said. “We were very touched that people on campus were remembering Dec on the second anniversary of his death.”

Contact Megan Doyle at mdoyle11@nd.edu