MICHIGAN — Laurie Smith spends a lot of her time these days giving to others in the community. She’s founder and president of the ForeverStrong Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to meeting people’s physical and emotional needs in the Kalamazoo and Battle Creek area.
Their motto is “We are stronger together.” In 2020, during the pandemic, they made sure to live out their tagline after they had to cancel their annual service projects and events.
“Some of the board members were able to get their hands on some PPE. So, we were delivering what we could get our hands on to hospitals and things like that in the local area,” Smith said during an interview at Mattawan High School last week. “We were helping just like everybody else. There were folks in the community that we were made aware of that needed groceries.”
So, the foundation helped them out. Serving others, she said, is one of the best ways for them to remember their loved ones. And, one day they hope to honor them with a memorial site.
“We have a plan. We don’t have the site. So, until we have the site or until God lays it on our hearts that ‘yup, this is it,’ and helps us make it happen, I’m not going to do a big fundraiser,” Smith said. “February 20 has never, never been about raising money.”
On the night of Feb. 20, 2016, six people were killed during a shooting spree, and two others were injured. Two of the fatal victims that night were Smith’s husband, Rich, and 17-year-old son Tyler.
Smith and her daughter, Emily, were devastated and have been coping with their losses since the tragedy happened. However, they channeled their energy into creating the ForeverStrong Foundation, along with other community members and survivor Tiana Carruthers.
This Saturday will mark five years since it happened.
“For the five-year anniversary coming up, we not only will be in our own remembrance but we want to extend an invitation to the community,” she said. “Anybody that is experiencing pain or loss of any kind, whether it’s now or it’s in the past, I don’t how many years. It doesn’t matter. If you would like us to pray for you, we are going to be praying for anyone on the evening of Feb. 20 and beyond.”
Smith said prayer and her faith in God has gotten her through the last few years. What’s also helped her heal are the various annual events the foundation puts on, like the soccer tournament that’s in memory of her son, who was a star soccer player at Mattawan High School.
“Obviously ForeverStrong could not do the FunFest, and we also could not do the gala, which we had done in 2019 in memory of the bicycle tragedy,” Smith said, referring to the crash that killed five cyclists in June 2016. “We gave the proceeds there to the Open Bike program in Kalamazoo.”
Smith said they’re hoping to do the Fun Fest and the gala this year. And, more importantly, they hope to spread their message that hope is always an option.
“Tomorrow is going to be better, okay. It might not be tomorrow, but this year it will get better,” Smith laughed. “There’s always something to hope for.”
***For prayer requests email Foreverstrongfoundation@gmail.com***