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Declan Memorial Fund aids students

Meghan Thomassen | Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Since Declan Sullivan’s death three years ago, the fund his family created in his memory has sponsored 52 students at Horizons for Youth, a tutoring and scholarship nonprofit organization in Chicago.

“We’re really happy with what we’ve been able to accomplish with the funds over the past few years,” Declan’s father, Barry Sullivan, said. “What pleases us the most is the idea that all these people who never had the chance to meet Declan are remembering him and are helping us to remember him in an appropriate way.”

Declan Sullivan, a member of the Class of 2012, died in October 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 he was a videographer for the football team. Sunday marked the third anniversary of his death.

When the Sullivans received abundant support from their community after Declan’s death, they decided to create something positive in his memory, according to Allison Ackerman, the communications manager at Horizons for Youth and a 2009 graduate of Notre Dame.

“They were looking for causes to support that would reflect Declan’s life,” Ackerman said. “They knew Declan loved Notre Dame and loved his education, so they wanted to find something that would support low-income kids from Chicago.”

Horizons for Youth is a scholarship, mentoring and community organization for children, Ackerman said. The program accepts students from kindergarten through third grade and supports them through high school graduation, sometimes providing 95 percent of tuition for students placed in private schools. Horizons for Youth also connects students with Big Siblings twice a month and with other individualized tutoring services.

“Students are not selected based on academic ability level,” Ackerman said. “A lot of them are average and need help.”

Ackerman said the Sullivans finalized their decision to make Horizons for Youth the primary beneficiary of the Declan Drumm Sullivan Memorial Fund when they discovered the organization’s offices were located next to Old Saint Patrick’s Church, where Barry and his wife Alison were married and where all their children were baptized.

Barry Sullivan said the fund receives other contributions throughout the year. The Sullivans put these funds toward their children’s former elementary and high schools, Old Saint Patrick’s Church in Chicago and the community center on Beaver Island, Michigan, where the family spent many summer vacations.

Barry Sullivan said it’s also fitting that Horizons for Youth is the fund’s primary beneficiary because of the work the staff contributes to the main fundraising event, No Ordinary Evening.

Every year, Horizons for Youth works with the Sullivans to host the 700-guest fundraising gala in the Grand Ballroom at Navy Pier, Ackerman said. The inaugural event raised more than $600,000, and Horizons for Youth received the bulk of the proceeds.

“We were able to accept 40 new students into our program and double our tutoring and counseling services,” she said. “The second event allowed us to sustain the first class and add 12 new students.”

Ackerman said the size of Declan’s next class completely depends on the success of next year’s event, slated for April 5, 2014, at the same location.

“For a student at a charter school, it costs $4,000, and for a private school it’s $8,000, but we need to sustain them year after a year,” she said.

The title of the event comes from one of Declan’s favorite films, “American Beauty,” in which one character says, “I don’t think that there is anything worse than being ordinary.”

“Declan was anything from ordinary,” Barry Sullivan said.

The theme for the upcoming gala is “No Ordinary Evening In Wonderland,” Sullivan said.

“Some if the craziness and the fantasy aspects seem to fit Declan’s personality,” he said. “[Declan’s siblings] Mac and Wyn were also involved in coming up with the theme. it was actually suggested by one of Wyn’s good friends. It just all struck a chord with us.”
This Saturday, 20 students from Horizons for Youth and their mentors will attend the Notre Dame football game against Navy to meet and tailgate with the Sullivan family.

“It’s a special game for Horizons,” Sullivan said.

Contact Meghan Thomassen at mthomass@nd.edu