Dexter middle school students recently applied for grants to combat extreme poverty. The grants are the continuing legacy of Laurence Carolin, a local high school student who succumbed to cancer 9 years ago. His work continues to inspire students and adults alike today.
Cheryl Darnton, who teaches 7th grade Global Studies at Mill Creek, uses Laurence’s story as a backdrop and inspiration for teaching her students about the effects of extreme poverty around the world. Even as a child, Laurence wanted to help others and worked to do just that even after he received his diagnosis. His story is as moving as it is bright.
1994: Lisa and Patrick Carolin adopt a 5-month-old baby boy from South Korea and name him “Laurence”. As Lisa describes, they “had the good fortune to live in the Dexter school district” and Laurence grows up surrounded by a nurturing family, friends, and community.
Almost grows up.
Lisa and Patrick always encouraged Laurence to take pride in his native culture, which he did with enthusiasm. This led young Laurence into considering the plight of impoverished people all around the globe.
Lisa remembers, “From a young age, Laurence took pride in his Korean heritage and American citizenship, and also embraced the idea of being a citizen of the world. He demonstrated compassion from an early age, always wanting to do what he could for those in need.”
It is that legacy that Lisa continues. Using money from Laurence’s college fund, she sponsors grants to charitable organizations working to alleviate the effects of extreme poverty around the world. The grants are distributed through Cheryl Darnton’s 7th grade Global Studies class.
Laurence grew up like most kids playing soccer, listening to rock music and learning electric guitar. He took an interest in cooking, especially the regional dishes of his homeland. But perhaps unlike many adolescents, Laurence had a profound appreciation for his good fortune and looked for ways to be a conduit for his blessings instead of a reservoir. He wanted to help others.
2007: The Carolins are devastated when at age 13, Laurence is diagnosed with glioblastoma, a malignant brain cancer. It is at this lowest of moments in life Laurence is inspired to accelerate his efforts in helping others. He takes a particular interest in extreme poverty, something he learned about through the rock band U2 and lead singer Bono’s cause One.org
It would be understandable for anyone in Laurence’s situation to seek comfort, reassurance, and check as many things off the “things to be done” list as possible in what time may be left. Instead, 13-year-old Laurence donates his wish from Make-A-Wish to One.org and the United Nations Foundation to benefit the fight against extreme poverty. While battling cancer in what would be his final few years, the teenager continues his efforts, raising upwards of $30,000 dollars.
Cheryl Darnton had Laurence as a student and recalls his passion to fight extreme poverty:
“After he was diagnosed with brain cancer, he knew he had a limited time on this planet to do his work. Most people who have the glioblastoma live about nine months. He lived for two years. And His goal was to make a difference. In the summer, he would make and sell lunches donating the money to the United Nations Foundation. He also had fundraisers at restaurants around town and they would also donate a portion of their proceeds to the Foundation for sustainable development to combat extreme poverty.”
In addition to having him in class, Cheryl shared a kindred spirit when it comes to fighting extreme poverty. In a visit to Africa, Cheryl saw first-hand the effects of extreme poverty. Upon return, she shared her photos and the two had much to discuss.
2010: Laurence succumbs to cancer at age 15, but his vision for a better world does not.
2011: Dexter High School students, friends, family, and supporters organize “Airplane Day”, an event to honor Laurence’s memory by raising money and awareness to fight extreme poverty. “Airplane Day” is held each February for the next five years. Laurence is still helping others.
2019: Mill Creek Middle School teacher Cheryl Darnton has incorporated Laurence’s mission against extreme poverty in her 7th grade Global Studies classes ever since Laurence’s death. Using Laurence’s example as inspiration for her class, Cheryl explores the struggles other people face around the world and how we can look for ways to help.
Students select the name of a country out of a hat. The kids begin discussing the country they selected according to available data. Topics include life expectancy, literacy rate, the Human Development Index, income, GDP, as well as deeper social struggles. If their country is developing, part of the student’s assignment is to write a grant for a charitable organization active in that country. Winning grants receive $100 drawn from Laurence’s college fund. One-hundred dollars in a developing country goes a long way.
“So I’m helping the kids understand that a group of people, instead of just one person, doing a project together can be a lot more powerful. A lot of these projects that the kids are looking at are projects that will actually cause social change in the community where they’re taking place.”
This past Wednesday, Lisa Carolin and partner Suzanne Murray selected the winning grant applications based on criteria that included:
- Completing the grant
- Urgency of need
- How well the grant integrates into the need of the country
Without further delay, the winners of the 2019 Laurence Carolin Grant to Fight Extreme Poverty are:
- Jasmine A. / Anita P. for Girls Not Brides, who works to ending child marriage in Senegal and enables girls to realize their full potential.
- Destin B./ Hayden K./ Javier M. for Save the Children, which provides emergency aid and relief, clean drinking water, medicine in Somalia.
- Sophia B. for Liberty in North Korea, helping North Korean refugees make a new life after escaping from North Korea.
- Kate P. for International Lesbian, Gay, bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, working to end discrimination against LGBTQ people in the world.
- Delaney P./ Alyson P./ Jill D. for Global Giving, promoting transition to home orphan care in the country of Gambia.
- Dana K./ Erin H./ Ashley R. for The Girl Effect, working to give girls educational opportunities in Malawi.
- Gabriel S. for Charitable Foundation Zaporuka, which provides life-saving medical treatment for kids in Ukraine.
- Lia D./ Heidi F. for Heifer International, to provide chickens for people in Cameroon.
- Kayla D./ David V./ Haley L. for Global Giving, to help girls in Afghanistan get an education.
- Harper H./ Katie M. for The END Fund, to fight internal parasites in the people of Liberia.
Congratulations to all grant recipients and thank you for working to fight extreme poverty!
Cheryl Darnton intends on continuing Laurence’s legacy and sees it as a way to help alleviate global suffering as well as the ripple effect of establishing awareness in young minds. She says,
“Laurence passed away on January 15 which is the actual birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. King’s life was cut short and other people have taken his work forward on his behalf. I feel like we’re doing that for Laurence. His life was cut short, and I promised Laurence that I would do whatever I could to carry his work on and teach people about extreme poverty and try to help eradicate extreme poverty.”
There is currently a bank account that Mill Creek Middle School is managing for the Laurence Carolin Grant Fund. Both Cheryl Darnton and Lisa Carolin plan to expand grant writing opportunities for students as well as to expand the fund itself. Anyone interested in donating to the Laurence Carolin Grant Fund can make a check to the fund, and send it to the attention of: Mrs. Hallie Dunham, Mill Creek Middle School, 7305 Dexter Ann Arbor Road, Dexter, Michigan 48130.