Family raises $40,000 to help Chattanooga area charities in daughter's name

Family raises $40,000 to help Chattanooga area charities in daughter's name

September 17th, 2013 by Jeff LaFave in Local Regional News

Leah McDonough, center, talks with Michelle Robison, left, Christie Kilpatric, right, and Ashlie Henderson, far right, at a check presentation event to donate the $40,000 the family has raised in the past year in honor of their daughter, Zoe McDonough. Zoe and her grandmother died in a pontoon boat accident on Chickamauga Lake last year.

Photo by Maura Friedman /Times Free Press.

Zoe McDonough's legacy lives on through colorful dust clouds, costume afro wigs and acts of heartfelt charity.

Zoe, merely 10 years old, and her grandmother Susan, 66, died last summer when a sudden storm flipped their family's pontoon boat on Chickamauga Lake on July 6, 2012. The McDonough family united to memorialize their lives by founding a "color run" race on July 4 of this year.

Monday evening, the rainbow-clad community that gathered in the wake of tragedy united once again to celebrate raising $40,000 for local charities through the Zoe McDonough Foundation's race event.

"A year later, you like to think your life is back to normal," said Brett, Zoe's father. "You give yourself a pass for the first year because it's so new and fresh. But after a year, you don't get a pass anymore. We created positive memories and a new tradition."

Family members, neighbors and charity volunteers met at Bar Louie at Hamilton Place mall, the same venue as the memorial 5k run. Two months before, 1,650 runners decked out in plain white clothing sprinted through explosions of colored water and cheerful music.

The result? A cheerful mess.

"I had it on me, and I didn't even run in the race," said Joyce Phillips, a committee board member for the Zoe McDonough Foundation. "People really want to be a part of this. They believe in what we're doing."

The $40,000 raised through entrance fees and donations will assist the Ronald McDonald House, Big Brothers Big Sisters, The Bethlehem Center, the Children's Hospital at Erlanger and Tennessee Baptist Children's Homes.

The funding will be spent with children in mind.

"We want to make the children's room feel less sterile and scary," said Yogi Anderson of the Children's Hospital at Erlanger. "It should be a place where they won't be as afraid of machines and things that poke you."

On the day of the race, Zoe's would-be fifth-grade classmates came out in full force to remember her friendship that day by donating large portions of their hair to Locks of Love.

"She was my personal cheerleader," said 11-year-old friend Brighton Ralls, whose hair previously reached her elbows. "It made me feel proud."

Other friends were on hand to share testimony of their late friend Monday night. Meg Henderson, a neighbor, would always play dress-up with Zoe. Now, she says she will never forget the time they got frozen yogurt while wearing giant, colorful costume afros.

"She was crazy," Henderson said. "We had the guts to do it, though."

The Rainbow Dash has already been scheduled for 2014, and organizers of the Zoe McDonough Foundation want the event to grow every year. The new tradition, they hope, will inspire others to help.

"The whole idea was to keep my daughter's and mom's memory alive," Brett said. "And it did just that. It was not a sad day for my wife and me."

Contact staff writer Jeff LaFave at 423-757-6592 or