published Friday, November 2nd, 2012

Family raising funds to aid girl's favorite charities

Brett McDonough, center, talks to his son, Corbin, 8, as he and his family walk to football practice at the Ridgedale Baptist recreation fields on Hickory Valley Road. Mom Leah McDonough, far right, and daughter, Siri, 6, walk behind.
Brett McDonough, center, talks to his son, Corbin, 8, as he and his family walk to football practice at the Ridgedale Baptist recreation fields on Hickory Valley Road. Mom Leah McDonough, far right, and daughter, Siri, 6, walk behind.
Photo by Tim Barber.

IF YOU GO

* What: Zoe McDonough Foundation fundraiser

* When: Saturday

* Where: The Amigo Mexican restaurants at 6701 Highway 58, Harrison, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. and

1906 Dayton Blvd., Red Bank, noon-10:30 p.m.

* How: Ten percent of Saturday's profits will be donated to the foundation.

* Information: www.zoesrainbowdash.com

Earlier this year, Zoe McDonough was getting ready for a typical day in the fourth grade at Westview Elementary School. But then she wrapped a scarf around her head and pulled her pants up extra-high.

"What are you doing, Zoe?" her dad asked when he saw her before school.

"Oh, I'm just having fun," she responded.

The 10-year-old had decided to spend the day dressed up as her Grandma Sue -- just to make people laugh.

"She was just goofy like that," said Brett McDonough, her dad.

Months later on July 5, Zoe and her grandmother, 66-year-old Susan McDonough, died together during a family get-together on a pontoon boat. A surprise storm swept across Chickamauga Lake and flipped the boat end over end.

Ten people reached shore safely, but Zoe and Susan were trapped underwater for several minutes. Paramedics restarted their hearts in the ambulances, but neither regained consciousness and both died in the hospital a few hours later on July 6.

"You're just desperate," said Brett McDonough, an optometrist who lives in a gated East Brainerd neighborhood. "You can't make any sense of it."

As word of the tragedy spread, the McDonoughs' neighbors and friends rallied around the family -- cooking meals, mowing the lawn, cleaning the house, answering the phone.

"People just came in and took care of the little things that I would never have thought of but were so helpful," McDonough said. "Things we were honestly incapable of doing."

Now the McDonoughs want to give back to the East Brainerd community and memorialize Zoe at the same time. They have started the Zoe McDonough Foundation to raise money for Zoe's favorite charities, including the Bethlehem Center, Ronald McDonald House Charities, Tennessee Baptist Children's Home, Big Brother Big Sisters and Locks of Love.

Zoe was involved with all those charities, McDonough said. When she donated her hair to Locks of Love, she cried the rest of the day.

"But she was happy she did it," he said. "It was a big sacrifice for her, because she loved her long hair -- but she was glad she did it."

Zoe always had a bit of an old soul, her parents agree. She was happy, compassionate and caring. She often acted as a sort of mother to the kids in the neighborhood and to her younger brother and sister, her father said. She even promised to walk Siri, her 6-year-old sister, to school this fall for her first day of kindergarten.

When the first day of school rolled around, Zoe wasn't there -- but her Girl Scout troop was. The girls volunteered to fill Zoe's spot.

"That was pretty amazing," said Leah McDonough, Zoe's mom.

The family has been selling bright yellow T-shirts and rainbow wristbands to raise money for the Zoe McDonough foundation, but its first major fundraiser is set for Saturday. Two Amigo Mexican restaurants volunteered to donate 10 percent of Saturday's profits to the foundation.

Owner Megan Antuna said she doesn't know the family well, but she sent her kids to the same day care as the McDonoughs and their paths crossed occasionally.

"We were just devastated by the accident, and we wanted to honor Zoe because she was just such a great little girl and already doing charity work at her young age," Antuna said.

Beyond the fundraiser, the foundation's main annual event will be "Zoe's Rainbow Dash" -- a 5k run in which participants are plastered in colored powder throughout the race. The run is scheduled for July 4, 2013, about a year after Zoe and Susan's deaths.

"It's become a therapy for us, just to make something positive happen out of something so horrible," Brett McDonough said.

They're planning to start the race at Hamilton Place mall and believe the atmosphere will match Zoe's fun-loving personality and also say thanks to the East Brainerd community.

"A 'thank you' card can't say it," Leah McDonough said.

All proceeds from the fundraisers and the race will go to the charities the Zoe McDonough Foundation supports.

The healing process has been slow, the McDonoughs said, but the community's support means everything.

"I feel like our faith in God has kept us going and he's provided comfort, support and love through all these people," Leah McDonough said. "There is no way I would have thought beforehand that I could ever survive anything like this. It's just amazing what the support of a community can do to hold you up on your feet."

about Shelly Bradbury...

Shelly Bradbury covers police and crime in Chattanooga and Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She's been with the paper since 2012, working first as an intern and then as a business reporter. She is from Houghton, New York, and graduated from Huntington University in Huntington, Indiana, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and minor in management. Before moving to Tennessee, Shelly previously interned with The Goshen News, The Sandusky Register and The Mint ...

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