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Event helps cope with loss of a dad
Carry On Youth festival offers music, fun in caring atmosphere
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Carry On Youth Inc. founder Nick Howard talks Saturday with kickball players at the Father’s Day Weekend Family “Fun-raiser” at Laurel Park. - photo by NAT GURLEY

Father’s Day is a joyful occasion to celebrate dads and all they mean to us. But for some, the holiday is colored with sadness, a reminder of an important person they lost at a young age.

At Laurel Park on Saturday, Carry On Youth Inc. founder Nick Howard said he sought to harness and repurpose his personal loss, creating an event that would have him looking forward to Father’s Day.

“I lost my dad. Some of the kids in our group have lost their dads. Our event was really for if someone is not sure what to get dad for Father’s Day, or if you’ve lost a parent and what to find out how the charity works,” Howard said, of the event’s first “fun-raiser,” complete with vendors, sports and live music.

“We’ve got bands and barbecue and games that you can come out and celebrate with your family, or if you’ve lost someone, you can honor them by coming out.”

Howard’s dad died when he was 19. He said that coping in the long term, after the initial support and attentiveness wanes, is something he knows the difficulty of firsthand. His group seeks to provide a long-term structure for support.

“One of our focuses for example is recreation because maybe a child loses interest in a sport that they love because they used to play it with their dad,” he said.

More than anything, Howard said, the group seeks visibility in order to reach the children they’re seeking to mentor and provide recreational services.

“Really this was an event to try to capture everyone’s attention,” Howard said. “The thing is, we need everyone to be paying attention to be able to help these families because ... we don’t know who has lost someone. That’s what it kind of came down to. What can we do to get the community interested?”

Families and friends came out to taste vendors’ wares and watch softball games. One of the biggest draws was musical act Asphalt Cowboys, out of Gainesville.

“We didn’t know anything about the foundation. My husband found this online,” Cathy Dean said between acts at the park’s amphitheater. “We mainly came for the bands. We do know Asphalt Cowboys.”

Christina Connors and Laura Holland, Howard’s sister-in-law, came from out of town in support.

“This is really beautiful,” Holland said, with the park at its most balmy, almost-summer temperatures. “I’m definitely excited for the Asphalt Cowboys.”

There were fewer children by the stage, but Dean said overall the day had been a fun-filled family outing.

“We had our grandchildren. They played in the water park,” she said.

And by coming to the event, she found that there was a way she could help contribute to Carry On.

“I actually have a lot of clothes for the grandchildren, and the youngest is 2, and I won’t need the baby clothes anymore,” she said. “They mentioned I could donate those, and they would pick them up, so I think I’ll be doing that.”

Howard said the group graciously accepts donations, monetary and items to give to families, although he said the aspect of making human connection is what the organization is most about. That’s where again a simple referral becomes so important.

“If you know of something, don’t let these kids slip through the cracks is the main thing,” he said.