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Festival to benefit victims’ families

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A weekend festival in Franklin will bring together more than 30 vendors, eight bands and even a dancing workout session in a continuing effort to raise money for the families affected by the Edinburgh dam tragedy.

More than $57,000 has been raised to help the families of the two teenagers who died and a third who remains hospitalized following a swimming accident in Edinburgh on June 6. The Franklin Family Fund keeps growing as residents continue to sell Franklin Strong T-shirts, jewelry and accessories and local businesses and groups donate proceeds from fundraisers.

About $23,000 has been spent to help pay for funeral expenses for Jason Moran and Michael Chadbourne and for ongoing medical treatment and support for family members of Sarah McLevish.

Those three and their friends Trent Crabb and Mark Nally all went over the dam near State Road 252 and got pulled into the swirling water near the dam’s face. Moran was pulled under the water and drowned, while Nally and Crabb were able to pull Chadbourne and McLevish out with the help of passers-by.

Chadbourne died less than a week later after his family took him off life support. McLevish remains hospitalized and in a therapy program at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health in Indianapolis.

The momentum to show support for what some people call the Franklin Five and their families isn’t slowing more than a month later, said Torey Denzio, who is organizing this weekend’s festival at the Franklin American Legion post.

“That really starts with the giving hearts that have been so involved with it,” Denzio said. “They just don’t want to stop giving yet, and we want to add on to that as much as we can. Things do fizzle out pretty fast, and we don’t want to do that.”

All of the proceeds from the festival will go to the Franklin Family Fund, Denzio said. That will include money from food and drinks, people selling Franklin Strong items, vendors who will donate profits from selling others items such as Avon or Scentsy, a silent auction with items donated by local businesses or organizations, and a two-hour Zumba workout where participants will be asked for a minimum donation.

The event also will have activities for kids and eight bands scheduled to provide music throughout the day, Denzio said. She hopes the event will raise at least $5,000 for the fund but thinks the community could easily help break that goal. A motorcycle ride and street party hosted in late June raised about $11,500 for the fund.

Jeff Mercer, Franklin Community School Corp. executive director of finance, said the fund will help pay for headstones for Moran and Chadbourne, while the remaining money could continue to help McLevish’s family pay for treatments.

The school district, which is managing the fund, has been able to stay in contact with the families through Nally’s mother, Deb Brown-Nally, who is the school district’s director of curriculum and instruction, Mercer said. That’s allowed them to use the family fund to immediately help out when the families needed something, he said.

“Anything they’ve needed, we’ve done. We didn’t want to be overbearing, but we’ve stayed in constant communication; and when they need something, we’ve got it,” Mercer said.

Mercer wasn’t sure how the remaining funds or any additional money would be spent at this time.

McLevish remains hospitalized, so the family may continue to accumulate medical expenses. School district officials haven’t met with the families to discuss what other expenses might need to be covered or what to do with any money that might remain after expenses are paid, Mercer said.

The amount of money that’s been raised so far has been awesome, and community members continue to drive fundraising efforts on their own, Franklin

Community High School Principal Doug Harter said. Shortly after the tragedy, residents organized events and fundraisers through the high school, but they’ve branched out and created their own network, he said.

That networking has helped Franklin Strong keep the momentum while school staff prepare for school to start again in early August and plan ways to address the tragedy and support students in the first few weeks back in class, Harter said.

“They take on a life of their own. They come up with an idea, and they take it and run with it and don’t run it through the school,” Harter said.

Denzio said those passionate community members are now flocking together for the large event this weekend. Several Franklin Strong supporters had talked about a festival, but a scheduling conflict with another event almost derailed the idea, she said.

She volunteered to help organize the multiple community members who wanted to host an event, despite not knowing any of the teens or their families. She has high-school-aged brothers, though, so the tragedy hit home with her and got her involved with community efforts.

“You can never rally around the families too much. They’re going to need a lot of continuing support, and it’s been very humbling to see the community come around these families,” she said.

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