Nearly a year after Kait’s Angels embarked on its mission to encourage compassion, charity and friendship, the Mattituck volunteer group’s efforts have already expanded beyond town lines.
Created in memory of 2012 Mattituck High School graduate Kaitlyn Doorhy, the nonprofit organization established last year has donated a “Buddy Bench” to Aquebogue Elementary School as a way for students to come together when they might otherwise feel alone.
A second-grader from York, Penn., came up with the idea for the Buddy Bench as a way to help lonely classmates at his school’s playground.
On Friday in Aquebogue, students in grades one through four gathered for an assembly as their own Buddy Bench was unveiled. [Scroll down for photos]
Kaitlyn’s mother, Darla, said elementary schools at Riley Avenue, Oysterponds, New Suffolk, Southold and Greenport will all receive a Buddy Bench.
“It’s pretty special because it is the first one Kait’s Angels is doing as an organization on the North Fork,” she said.
Last November, the “Kaitlyn Doorhy Memorial Buddy Bench” was unveiled at Cutchogue East Elementary School, where Ms. Doorhy had once been a student. Kait’s Angels picked up the idea from there.
Kait’s Angels president William Araneo described the volunteer group’s growth as organic and as a community effort. He said he believes it provides a way for Kaitlyn’s family, friends and neighbors to heal.
“There’s general admiration for this young woman,” Mr. Araneo said. “She has inspired us to try and find a way to keep her memory alive. From a very dark moment, this has really shown the best of the community and its love.”
Aquebogue principal Phil Kent, who knew Kaitlyn, said she was an example of living life to the fullest.
“She loved to be among friends and kids,” he said.
During Friday’s assembly, Mr. Kent spoke to students about what the bench represents.
“You can use it when you are looking for a buddy or to sit down and calm down,” he said. “You can say, ‘I need a friend today.’ ”
Kaitlyn was a high achiever and honor student, varsity soccer player, accomplished musician, cheerleader, volunteer and 2011 Mattituck Strawberry Queen. She died at the age of 20 in 2014 when she was struck by a car near her sorority house at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn.
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Kait’s Angels co-founder Jon Demopoulos said he decided to help create the group after reading about Kaitlyn’s life — something he said inspired him to be “more productive, positive and to think bigger.”
“I thought, ‘If this helped me, then it could help others,’ ” he recalled in an interview this week. “She did all of that and still had free time to hang out. If she could do all of that, we can do this together.”
While Mr. Demopoulos, who graduated from Mattituck High School in 2004, has a background in film and graphic design, he volunteered to create the group’s website (his first) and handle its social media accounts, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, by posting positive and inspirational messages. Mr. Demopoulos also handles the group’s day-to-day operations.
“People that volunteer are helping themselves, too, because providing random acts of kindness brightness their own day,” he said. “It’s win-win and makes you feel unstoppable.”
Mr. Araneo, who’s also a longtime member of the Mattituck Lion’s Club, the group that provided immediate support to establish the organization’s legal status as a nonprofit, said he enjoys how well Kait’s Angels has engaged with people online. One way it has achieved this is with Kait’s Kits, a bundle containing Kait’s Angels merchandise like T-shirts, cellphone cases and lip balm. In addition, the group has created various fundraisers.
On Dec. 4, Kait’s Angels will hold its first “Paint and Taste” fundraiser at Macari Vineyards. The group is also volunteering to purchase holiday groceries for families in need.
As for 2016, Mr. Araneo and Mr. Demopoulos said Kait’s Angels has big plans. The group will continue to host various fundraisers, including a designer handbag WINGO night and poker run. It also plans to start chapters in other states, including at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut.
When Mr. Demopoulos obtained the group’s logo from desingcloud.com, a graphic design website, the winning artist also gave Kait’s Angels a second logo depicting Kaitlyn as a cartoon character for free after learning about her story.
That image will be used for Kait’s Kids, a sister group Mr. Demopoulos said will work exclusively with children, schools and PTAs.
“We want this to be big, with people spreading this message of positivity,” he said. “Just looking at the future, it’s exciting to see who it will be able reach.”
Additional reporting by Barbaraellen Koch
Editor’s note: An initial version of this story published Friday at riverheadnewsreview.com was replaced online Thursday with an updated story, which also appears in this week’s edition of the Riverhead News-Review newspaper.