WAXAHACHIE

Ellis County children are at the heart of Our Sunflower Friends. The nonprofit launched an annual fundraising event five years ago, added to it two years after and now has plans to help the families of Bel and Clar Coonrod and Caitlyn DeLosSantos through tough financial times.

Each year, Our Sunflower Friends chooses two families to help and utilizes funds raised at its fundraisers to aid with medical bills and in-betweens. The nonprofit is now gearing up for its fifth annual family festival and third annual casino night.

There is also an opportunity for the community to get a headstart on the fundraising on Saturday at the KBEC studios in Waxahachie.

The station will host a live-outdoor broadcast from 9 a.m.—noon. Raffle tickets for one of two ATVs will be sold for one ticket for $5 or five tickets for $25. Live music will be provided by “Traveling Blues Brothers.”

"The family festival is a fun time with kids activities galore during the day, then at night, it's all about the adults," Our Sunflower Friends President Vicki Grady said. "We have hopefully put together a platform of events that appeal to all and allows you have tons of fun too while showing your support right here at home."

Our Sunflower Friends initially helped families solely through monetary donations, but as members of the nonprofit familiarized themselves with the cases, the group started to provide services. For instance, Caitlyn, 15, suffers from Charge Syndrome, which causes numerous internal issues, including heart, lung, intestinal, hearing and vision problems.

The Palmer home where Caitlyn lives underwent an $8,000 renovation provided by All About Roofing, JBarC Cowboy Church and Our Sunflower Friends. A new roof was added, the floors were leveled and replaced, underpinning on the exterior of the home occurred and a wheelchair accessible bathroom was constructed.

“That’s kind of the areas that we are looking forward and going to so we are not just helping the children themselves," Grady explained, "but helping the whole family unit and bringing them back to a solid foundation to where they can live in a day in day out basis and not have to worry about issues."

Caitlyn was recently fitted with a halo for a curvature of the spine. The halo will relieve the lungs from her spine shifting, relief on her organs, which will reduce her pain. The halo is hoped to help blood and oxygen flow as well.

Ashleigh Branson, Caitlyn's mother, said since the home renovations are complete, now she can focus on purchasing a new truck to easily transport her family.

"Her walker and wheelchair are like six and a half feet tall. And her nurse has a truck who has been with her for about 14 years, so we've been using his or have to borrow one from a family member. And we go to appointments very often."

The event will also benefit the family of two Maypearl sisters, Bel and Clar, who have rare genetic disorders. Bel was seven years old when she unexpectedly died in February due to complications related to a rare blood disease she acquired after cancer treatments. Clar, 4, was born with dwarfism, club hands and feet, which resulted in a double amputee of both feet. Clar was diagnosed with Rothmund Thomson Syndrome and also has a bilateral tibial hemimelia.

Their mother, Vicki Coonrod, explained, "Our Sunflower Friends have been as wonderful support this past year as we have faced medical challenges with the Bel as well as the unexpected death of our sweet Bel. They have not only been able to help us with medical cost but also with emotional and spiritual support.

"Our Sunflower Friends have been such a blessing to our whole family this year and we are honored they choose our family especially our girls to spread awareness of rare medical conditions about as well as support.”

Since Clar’s medical statue is “good,” the family will donate the money raised on Oct. 20 other funds raised for the remainder of the year to the Maypearl Community Park in memory of Bel.

The group serves Ellis County children with life-threatening diseases and a variety of cancers. Since the establishment in 2014, the nonprofit has helped a total of 11 families. To date, two of the children have passed away — Brooke, the first sponsored child, and Bel, one of the 2018 children.

For more information on Our Sunflower Friends, visit, https://www.oursunflowerfriends.org/. To purchase raffle tickets, contact Grady at 469-226-3080.

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Ashley Ford | @aford_news | 469-517-1450