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Grief turns to action for children in need

by Sheila Gardner

When Austin Kirby took his own life a few days after his 15th birthday, he set in motion a series of events that will leave a legacy of hope for generations of children.

n His grandmother, Patty Clark, offered her support to the Carson Valley Children’s Center Austin’s House to provide refuge for foster children in Douglas County.

n Friends at Carson Valley Middle School spontaneously set up Random Acts of Kindness clubs to spare their classmates some of the humiliation and teasing that tormented Austin as he struggled with epilepsy.

n Family members agreed to donate Austin’s organs, giving new life to five people including a 17-year-old boy who received Austin’s lungs and a 57-year-old man with two daughters who was the recipient of his gentle heart.

Clark said she had been interested in supporting the children’s home for a year, but Austin’s death Oct. 26 was the catalyst.

“We’re trying to make the loss of this boy we love so much as positive as we can,” she said.

Clark set up the Austin Kirby Foundation to raise funds for the children’s center.

As it was Austin’s nature to look out for others, she believes he would approve.

“The foundation was created in the hope that countless local children could be spared unhappiness and emotional and physical dislocation by providing a group residence for children in need of sanctuary,” Clark said.

The center will be a group foster home to provide services and care for up to 10 children ages birth to 17.

Residents will be referrals from Child Protective Services, the courts, homeless children and others in need of shelter. It is designed for short-term placement of Douglas County youth in crisis situations.

Currently children are placed with the county’s few licensed foster parents or sent out-of-county where spaces are available.

The center will enable sibling groups to stay intact and allow children who are removed from their homes to remain in their schools and close to their friends and families.

“Austin’s House will be a fitting memorial to Austin and to others whose lives were and are an example of love in the face of adversity,” she said.

Austin battled epilepsy from early childhood, Clark said.

It manifested itself in up to a dozen absence seizures a day – what Austin called “buzz outs” – to grand mal seizures.

She said Austin was being treated with four potent medications which created adverse side effects.

In addition, he was diagnosed a few years ago with celiac disease requiring a strict diet that eliminated “most kid-friendly foods” that teenagers enjoy.

That didn’t stop Austin from bringing cookies and other treats to his classmates, she said.

He was blessed with love and support from his family, but Clark said Austin’s school days were marked with struggle, especially if his classmates witnessed a seizure.

“In spite of his sweet, generous and friendly personality, he was teased mercilessly by many of his classmates and was occasionally publicly belittled by uninformed teachers,” she said.

“We don’t want to point the blame at any individuals, but sometimes adults in authority don’t realize how much power over these kids their words have,” Clark said.

She said the family has been contacted by several students who wanted to make amends for their mistreatment of Austin.

“Other classmates and teachers were supportive and kind, but the impact of the negative behavior was devastating,” Clark said.

As his family deals with the loss, Clark said her best therapy is to get to work on the children’s home project.

Austin was a familiar figure around Century 21 Clark Properties in Minden. Clark said the agents and employees miss her grandson’s almost daily visits and have added their support to getting the 5,300-square-foot children’s center up and running.

“If we can make a difference in the life of one of these children – if we can help make kids more aware of the power of cruelty and the power of kindness – then all our efforts will be worth it,” she said.

DETAILS

Donations may be made to the Austin Kirby Foundation for Austin’s House Carson Valley Children’s Center at Bank of America, account No. 4970596912 or sent to PO Box 1923 Minden, NV 89423.

Information about the Carson Valley Children’s Center is available at by calling Linda Cuddy, 782-6247.

ON THE WEB

Carson Valley Children’s Center

http://www.cvchildrenscenter.org