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Pay it Forward and Keep Your Child’s Memory Alive with a Memorial Fund

“A scholarship fund? Sure, that sounds like a great idea,” I mumbled, not fully comprehending what it might involve. We were writing the obituary for our son, Chris, and we just wanted to offer people an option to donate to something more meaningful and lasting than flowers. Two of Chris’ co-workers had suggested creating a memorial fund to help others pursue the career path Chris had chosen, and at the same time keep his memory alive. Chris, age 24, a budding emergency services worker and volunteer, died in 2009 when the ATV he was riding overturned. He was responding to a medical call at Oceano Dunes in Central California. Chris had planned to attend paramedic school that next fall.

It’s difficult to describe what it feels like to lose a son in the prime of his life. My biggest fear after Chris’ death was that he would be forgotten. Chris had such a big heart, and I was proud that he chose a career to help others. I realized the memorial scholarship could continue that quest to help others and it would keep his memory alive.

We decided then to set up the bank account for the “Christopher Meadows Memorial Paramedic Education Fund.” The money started to trickle in, and then hundreds of dollars turned into thousands! We always knew Chris had an impact on those around him, but it was gratifying to know that friends, family, and co-workers cared enough to support our fledgling cause and keep his memory alive. We were humbled and overcome by the outpouring of love.

We began our fundraising with memorial events, and it’s given us the resources to award scholarships to students like Chris. It’s is my personal challenge to increase the visibility of our fund, seek corporate sponsors, secure donations, and interview candidates for the scholarship. I get tremendous personal satisfaction out of this work. It is my way of staying closely connected to my son, even after he is gone. I can’t think of a more powerful, meaningful purpose in my life.

Each year more people are touched by Chris’ story and our fundraising is more successful than the last. We are able to offer an increasing number of scholarships to more paramedic and EMT students than ever before. It feels so good to know that we are doing this in Chris’ name and that people will remember him as well.

Follow the Rules

Keeping your child’s memory alive with a memorial fund can be therapeutic and helpful on many levels, but it’s also a lot of work.

Frankly, not everyone has the available time or energy to make a fund successful. Make sure you consider what it takes to run a memorial fund before embarking on this “labor of love.”

By definition, a memorial scholarship fund should have not-for-profit status. While a lot of memorial funds are set up and approved by the IRS without a non-profit status there can be severe penalties and personal income tax consequences if the rules are not followed. The correct tax exempt status as defined by the IRS is known as 501(c)(3). I know from my own experience that establishing this status is not for the faint-hearted. It involves attorneys and accountants to set up the fund with a specific governance structure, precise record keeping, and filing tax returns each year.

Fortunately, I found an organization called CharitySmith (www.charitysmith.org) that help with the set-up and maintenance of a memorial fund. Since CharitySmith is already a 501(c)(3), you are spared most of the expense and stress of having to set up your own non-profit.

Three important points to keep in mind if you’re interested in creating a memorial fund:

  1. Choose a cause that reflects your child’s passion and interests; pay-it-forward in a way that is most meaningful to you.
  2. Make sure you are up to the task; enlist the aid of people who can lend their skills to fundraising and event planning.
  3. Use an organization like CharitySmith for set up and maintenance; structure your fund according to IRS rules for non-profits to avoid costly tax penalties.

Six years ago when Chris’ co-workers suggested a memorial fund, I couldn’t have imagined the healing power it would have for me. It has helped me deal with the loss of a child and given me the opportunity to stay close to my son. It has created the “community of Chris Meadows” and aided countless needy paramedic and EMS students. Best of all, Christopher Meadows will never be forgotten.

 

 

 

Tim Meadows

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