Kaitlyn’s Dinner/Dance for SIDS Raises Turns Tragedy into an Annual Celebration of Life
A personal tragedy has inspired an annual party with a cause. Kaitlyn’s Dinner/Dance for SIDS is a birthday party celebration for Kaitlyn, the infant daughter of Terry McClung, Jr. and his wife, Stephanie.
“In May 2009, we experienced every parent’s worst nightmare. Our happy, healthy five-month-old daughter Kaitlyn died suddenly and unexpectedly due to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS),” wrote McClung. “There is no specific cause or cure for SIDS, only suggestions for how to reduce the risk. We followed those recommendations, but SIDS still took Kaitlyn’s life. As we approached what would’ve been Kaitlyn’s first birthday, my wife Stephanie and I wanted to do something to remember Kaitlyn. In September we decided to organize Kaitlyn’s 1st Birthday Dance for SIDS on November 28, 2009. Our goal was to still celebrate Kaitlyn’s birthday even though she was no longer with us, and at the same time raise money for two local charities that were very supportive of us.”
“We’ve continued this tradition, by making this an annual event on the first Saturday in December with the exception of 2010 when our youngest son was born right about the time that we would’ve had the dance,” said McClung. “It feels good to carry on Kaitlyn’s legacy. She only lived for five months, but she’s made a difference in this world. We donated her organs in an effort to save four lives. And now we continue to raise money in her name to keep on helping others. Over the years we’ve met other families whose children have died at a very young age. Several of them now attend our dances and we remember their children, too. So it’s been a very supportive experience for us all.”
The next birthday celebration will take place this December, during Kaitlyn’s birthday week. “The main highlight of the evening is the dancing,” said McClung. “Our DJ is great and the dance floor is always packed. We also have a silent auction, special raffles, 50/50 raffle, and door prizes.”
The money raised helps two charities in particular. “The University of Maryland Center for Infant & Child Loss works with families and communities facing the sudden unexpected death of their infant or child as they learn to live with their loss. The Center is committed to increasing the understanding of sudden infant and child death, risk reduction practices, grief, and compassionate intervention,” said McClung. “The other charity is SIDS Educational Services. Founded by Joani Horchler, who lost her son Christian to SIDS in 1991, the mission of SIDS-ES is to support families and professionals grieving babies lost to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome through informational materials and through free peer counseling and referral services. The dances also raise awareness with our attendees as we share Kaitlyn’s story and information about SIDS during the evening.”
McClung promotes the party through many different avenues: Facebook, email, print, and an active website. “It’s important to find a way to get to your audience throughout whatever avenue you can reach them,” he says. ” We created a website a few years ago with details about the dance, online ticket sales, and more. Each year, more and more people buy their tickets online. We also have a Facebook page, which we’ll use more as the dance gets closer. We send a flyer out via email to a mailing list of all previous attendees.”
“The Center for Infant & Child Loss helps promote the dance on their website, Facebook page, and in their newsletter,” says McClung. “SIDS-ES promotes the dance on their website and through their email list. We’re very active members of Columbia Ski Club, and ski club members and friends account for a large portion of our ticket sales. I’ve already spread the word through the ski club’s email list and at the monthly meetings. The dance will be on the CSC website and facebook group soon.”
“If I had to pick which promotional technique has worked best it would be the email list,” he said. “Many of our attendees continue to join us year after year, so by sending the flyer well in advance they save the date and buy tickets.”
McClung has developed great relationships with sponsors over the years. “We’ve been very successful getting donations using two methods. The first is through online submissions. A lot of big companies and sports teams prefer online donation requests. The second method is face-to-face requests. You have to take the time to visit a restaurant, local business, etc. with a donation letter in hand asking for the donation. If you send it by mail or email, it often gets lost in the shuffle. Going in-person and talking with someone has been far more successful for us.”
For those who are new to the annual celebration, McClung said the main objective is to have fun. “Of course we’re hoping to raise money at these dances. To date, we’ve raised over $33,000. But just as importantly, we want everybody to just have a good time,” he said. “Birthday parties are supposed to be fun and this is no exception. We put a lot of effort into getting donations for our silent auction and door prizes, so a lot of people walk away with something. They have a really good dinner, then have fun working it off on the dance floor. Finally, it is a reminder to everybody [to] hug their kids tighter and appreciate life because none of us know how much time we have.”
The sixth Kaitlyn’s Dinner/Dance for SIDS will take place Saturday, December 6 at Legacy Hall in Sykesville Freedom District Fire Department (660 Sykesville Road, Sykesville, MD). The event will take place from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. To learn more about the dance, click the Facebook and website links listed above.