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Coming Together For the Conkles

posted Oct 1, 2013, 7:23 PM by KnightWriter VB   [ updated May 8, 2014, 8:29 AM by Unknown user ]

Michelle Flanagan

            It's admirable when one community can come together to help a family in a time of need. It's extraordinary when three can do it.

            The Conkle family is well known not only in Van Buren, but also in Findlay and North Baltimore. Kim Conkle graduated from VB and used to teach at Powell Elementary School in North Baltimore, and her husband Matt grew up in McComb. All three of their daughters (Ashley, Emily, and Michaela) graduated from Van Buren-Michaela in 2013-and were very involved. Kim has battled with breast cancer before, and earlier this year, she found out that it was back. This was devastating news, and it was felt throughout three communities.

            It wasn't long before people wanted to do something more than send their condolences.

            VB senior Drew Patterson and alumnus Brennon Swain rallied to raise money in order to send the Conkles on a family vacation.

            The Conkles' church had a service dedicated to the family.

            Karen Flanagan, Kelly Shroll, and Chris McKinley organized a barbeque dinner from which the profits went towards offsetting the cost of medical bills.

            Drew Patterson explained how he and Brennon coordinated their plan. “Brennon and I wanted to make a difference in some way, and the best gift we thought that we could give the Conkles was family time to spend together.” After some brainstorming, they decided that sending them on a trip would be the perfect way to do so.

            Since summer was already in full-swing, and fall would bring its multitude of activities, they knew they didn't have a lot of time. The total time this took, beginning to end?

            A mere four weeks.

            They began by going door to door, handing out flyers that explained the situation, and left envelopes with return addresses on them so money could be sent in. Starting in Van Buren, they worked their way out to the Findlay area.

            Although they weren't sure how much money it would take, a goal was set. And that goal was more than doubled.

            Drew said that they were shocked with the community's generosity, through which they were able to more than double their goal.

            In the beginning, Brennon and Drew took their idea to Michaela. Although they wanted to get permission from her dad to ensure they weren't stepping on toes, they hoped she'd keep it a secret from her mom. When their goal was met, they presented the family with money...and it turns out that Michaela didn't tell anyone.

            Drew described when the secret came out, saying, “Kim had no idea, and she was shocked. And thankful, and humble.”

            When asked why they didn't just wait for someone else to organize a fundraiser, to assume that another friend would take the reins, Drew said, “We never thought about maybe someone else doing it. We just decided that we wanted to help.”

            Michaela Conkle talked about their vacation, explaining, “We went to Corolla, North Carolina. We went there one time, the second time she had breast cancer, with my cousins. We really liked it and we decided to go back.”

            The Conkles were able to stay in North Carolina for one week, and participated in a wide variety of activities. 

The Conkles enjoying their vacation in North Carolina
            “We went to the beach a lot. We went to an aquarium, dolphin watching, an outdoor feeder, we went shopping and stuff like that.”

            When asked about other ways that the area has been helping them out, Michaela said, “Teachers and friends from North Baltimore bring us food one night every week, the teachers at VB bring us food one night every week, and so do the people at my church. We have a lot of food...” She mentioned that various people will also come by to drop things off, such as bags full of hats.

            Along with the vacation and the community's efforts, she said, “Our church had a special service with shirts that said 'Pray for Kim' and had her favorite Bible verse on the back.” The verse was Isaiah 41:10: “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

            After their trip to Corolla, a benefit dinner was held called 'Cue for Conkle. It was organized by Karen Flanagan and Kelly Shroll. Andrew Shroll, a VB graduate, designed the posters and tickets, and Chris McKinley provided the food.

            Although a fundraiser had just finished, the community seemed ready to give some more. While Drew and Brennon went door to door, Karen and Kelly chose to go the electronic route.

            Karen said, “We put the posters Andrew designed in North Baltimore as well as Van Buren, we created a Facebook event, it was posted on Nbnewsxpress (North Baltimore's public event website) and I went to Powell Elementary School, where Kim taught, and left a flyer with them. The secretary there sent out an email to all the teachers in the district.”

            She explained that the difference between the two fundraisers was that while Drew and Brennon focused on giving a trip, the barbeque was aimed towards medical costs. It was simply two different ways to help a family.

            The idea was born shortly after Kim got her third and most recent diagnosis, when the uncertainty of medical coverage was being discussed. Jon Kelley, Tim Myers, and Cheryl Swisher and Karen were pitching ideas on how to help.

            “The next day I was talking with Mrs. McKinley-they're friends of the Conkles and he is a former school board member-and she said that she felt sure they'd be able to help out because he now has Bubba's Southern Pride catering. That's where it took off from.”

Kim Conkle with her granddaughter at the Van Buren
girls' soccer game vs. Bluffton

            And take off it did, with a total of 606 dinners being sold.

            As for the overall effect on her family, Michaela said, “It's brought us closer together, and closer to the Lord. It strengthens your faith. We're really appreciative of everything.”