"I always knew, even as a child, that I wanted to do something that would make the world a better place," said Meighan Ayers Harton, a first-grade teacher at Dodge Elementary School. She chose education because her mother was a teacher and because her parents instilled in her the attitude that "the gift of knowledge is the best, most important gift that you can possibly give someone," she said.
Meighan met a kindred spirit in fellow Dodge teacher, Caryn Hyatt Suthoff, whose love for her kindergarten students and her aspirations for them matched Meighan's dreams for her own students.
But Caryn, 24, a newlywed and first-year teacher, was diagnosed with cancer in September 2014 and died December 12.
"Caryn was passionate about life," Meighan said. "Even when she was so sick, none of us at school even knew it or suspected anything at all. She never let her smile fall or her positive attitude go away." Caryn, she said, always thought of others and did random, kind acts, even when she was sick. "That is what I loved about her; she was truly an angel."
And that is why Meighan Harton organized and oversaw the first Run with a Dot/Caryn's Kids (www.CarynsKids2027.com) benefit 5-K and 1-Mile Fun Run at the University of South Alabama January 10, 2015. Meighan belongs to a Mobile mystic society, and she was planning a run for her room. But with Caryn's illness, Meighan saw a greater priority for the fundraiser.
"As soon as I found out Caryn was sick, I knew I wanted to do a BIG something. I swear the moment I heard it was cancer, God said to me, 'Meighan, that race needs to be about Caryn,'" Harton said.
With the realization that Caryn might not make it, "I thought about Rusty (Caryn's husband), her family, her friends and our school, and all the pain they would go through losing someone so wonderful," Harton said. The race, she thought, might help ease everyone's pain, and with aid from others, she went on to plan the race.
Two hundred and fifty-six people participated on one of the coldest days of the winter. Many wore Mardi Gras costumes or remembrances of Caryn. And when it was all over, when the bills had been paid and some portion of the proceeds given to Caryn's family for medical expenses, there was enough left--$2,000--to begin a scholarship fund for one or more of Caryn's students when the child reaches college age.
Another race will be planned for next year and for years to come and Harton said that other fundraisers will be held to add to the fund.
These kindergartners were Caryn Hyatt Suthoff's first and only class, and Harton said, "I want them to know what a special person she was . . . It is my hope that these students will learn to use their talents and skills to give to others and make the world a better place."
The Run with a Dot/Caryn's Kids run also honored Caryn, about whom Harton said: "She was a light in our community . . . I wear my 'Caring for Caryn' bracelet every single day and I probably will always. It reminds me that even when times get tough, I need to continue to shine as brightly as she did, and to pass that light on to others."