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Sharon-based foundation helps children facing adversity

5/29/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

Holiday gifts for children in need of an uplifting celebration are shown above at an Angels For Kids Foundation Christmas party.
Sharon Township resident Shanyn McCourt is shown with a child as he gives her a thank-you hug during Angels For Kids Foundation’s Christmas event.
Photos courtesy of Angels For Kids Foundation
SHARON — Northeast Ohio children and families facing tough situations have been helped through the works of the Sharon-based Angels For Kids Foundation.

Founder Shanyn McCourt said she started the charity as a way to help others who, like her, had experienced loss or other difficulties. By the time she was 18 years old, McCourt said her parents and grandparents had died.

“My first Christmas without everyone, it was really lonely,” she said. “So I started contacting group homes in the Youngstown area, where I’m from, and just wanted to help the kids.”

With her own money and contributions from friends and coworkers, she helped make the holidays bright for about 25 youths that first year.

Now, more than 15 years later, McCourt is continuing her work with Angels For Kids, which was established as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in 2009. That status has allowed her to do more fundraising and serve more children and their families, she said.

McCourt said she usually relies on referrals from agencies to find children in need. She has focused much on the Youngstown and Amherst areas, where she previously lived, but now that she and her family are living in Medina County she would like to expand into doing more there and in the Akron area, she said.

This past year, McCourt said she also started accepting referrals from anyone who knows a child or family in need. The organization now has a board, and its members help determine who is eligible for assistance, she said.

Angels For Kids has two main events, McCourt said. The first one is a back-to-school effort that focuses on improving the self-esteem of children and relieving some first-day-of-school anxiety. Children are treated to new haircuts at a salon, school supplies, a goodie bag with shampoo and other care products, and a new outfit they get to choose.

“They leave the salon with smiles on their faces and then wake up the next morning with their heads held high, having the boost in confidence they need to have a great first day of school,” McCourt said.

Around Christmas, Angels For Kids hosts another event, which last year treated 77 children who were homeless, victims of abuse or facing other tragic circumstances.

“We gave these kids a huge party to remember,” McCourt said.

In addition to decorating cookies and dancing to tunes spun by a disc jockey, the children received a gift they asked for.

“The kids walked away with bikes, iPods, Beats by Dr. Dre, LEGO®s — whatever they wanted, they received,” McCourt said.

Angels For Kids conducts several fundraising events a year, she said, but the newest one is through local bakery Cupcake Castle in Fairlawn.

McCourt said she frequented the bakery and told the owner, Jean Covel, about her organization. Covel asked if she could do something to help, and the idea for a specialty cupcake was born.

“This is like a dream of mine because I love cupcakes so much,” McCourt said. “It was sweet.”

The vanilla bean cupcake with blueberry filling is topped with buttercream icing and white chocolate angel wings, which has earned it the name Heaven Sent. It’s available for $2.50 at the bakery, 117 Merz Blvd. A portion of the profits goes to Angels For Kids, McCourt said.

For her efforts, McCourt has been featured in national media such as Family Circle and Woman’s Day magazines. In the future, she said she’s hoping to see more chapters of her organization open. She also wants to work toward opening a vacation home for families needing a break together and calling it Ryan’s Retreat, in memory of her twin brother who died a few years ago.

“They need to be able to connect and reunite as a family,” she said of the families it will be geared toward. “They can stay there for a week so they can feel they belong to the family again.”

McCourt, who is raising two children and a stepson with her husband, juggles running Angels For Kids along with her full-time job as a community liaison nurse for the Cleveland Clinic. Seeing the results of the organization’s efforts makes it all worthwhile, she added.

“Being a working mom, it’s very difficult,” she said. “But to see that feeling of satisfaction on the kids’ faces and them jumping up and down for joy. … Last year, my husband and I watched all the kids opening up presents [at the Christmas party], and we just stood there and took it all in.”

For more information on Angels For Kids, go to www.angelsforkidsfoundation.com. Donations may be made on the website or sent to 799 N. Court St., Suite 13, Medina, OH 44256.

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