ELBURN—When school begins again this fall, Harter Middle School students and teachers will miss the smiles and laughter of Caitlyn Phillips.
Phillips, a 13-year-old student at HMS was taken from the Kaneland community on April 26 when she collided with a car while inline skating in her Elburn neighborhood.
But thanks to the efforts of parents and fellow cheer squad members, students and staff will have a spot in which to remember Phillips: a memorial garden at Harter Middle School.
The garden has been planted near the place where Phillips practiced with her cheer squad, and students will also be able to view it from the cafeteria. The space will include a bench, multi-seasonal garden plantings and a tree. A memorial plaque will feature a Quick Response code that, when scanned using a cell phone, will tell Phillips story.
HMS parent and landscape professional John Alagna, whose daughter Stephanie was on the cheer squad with Phillips, volunteered to help design and install the garden.
John also coaches a girls softball team, most of whom knew Phillips.
“The girls all took it really hard,” he said.
John, who finished planting the garden over the weekend, said he was “honored to be involved, and that the garden will feature something of interest for every season, including hollies with berries in the winter and perennials in the fall.
Another family donated a concrete bench that will be rehabbed and engraved, and Sugar Grove resident and arborist Roger Storck donated a tree. HMS parent, Mary Elliot, whose daughter Elizabeth was also a member of the squad, is heading up the project, including helping to raise the funds to support it.
The Kaneland Youth Football League, whose games the squad cheers for, contributed the initial $200 toward the garden. Then, in a three-day fund-raising effort at HMS, students and staff contributed more than $400.
Mary said they hope to have a dedication ceremony in August before school starts this fall. The participants will have the option to write a thought, a prayer or a memory for Caitlyn on biodegradable yellow ribbons that will be placed in the garden. If people would like to donate, they can do so at www.giveforward.com/fundraiser/5kf2/caitlynphillips-memorial-garden-khms.
“Even $5 would help us,” Mary said.
In addition, if anyone would like to volunteer to help with the care of the garden, including watering or weeding to keep it looking nice, they may contact Mary at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We feel it appropriate to provide a spot to remember Caity’s memory in an area that already rings with echoes of her laugh, a location that will bring the kind of smiles Caity did,” Mary posted on the website.
Mary said that any additional money collected above what is needed for the garden will be set aside for cheer scholarships. She said she hopes that through these actions, Phillips’ death will not just be a tragic thing, but something that the young people can learn from.
“They will realize that communities can come together,” Mary said.