Foundation Honors Late LSOE Graduate
Published: Sunday, October 20, 2013
Updated: Monday, October 21, 2013 16:10
In spite of her passing to gastric cancer last February, Boston College graduate Carly Hughes continues to embody the Jesuit ideal of setting the world aflame through the foundation in her name, Carly's Kids, which benefits the Holy Family School in Natchez, Miss. as well as the Carly Elizabeth Hughes Vascular Research Fund at Columbia University Medical Center.
A 2011 graduate of the Lynch School of Education (LSOE) Hughes first became involved with the Holy Family School as a junior. Her interest in education, as well as her close relationship with LSOE professor John Cawthorne, who became her mentor, led her to participate in the Natchez Immersion service trip that winter. “[Cawthorne] was the driving force,” said Hughes’ mother, Irene Vouvalides. “He fought for that school to raise funds and get everyone enthused and involved.”
Cawthorne directed the Natchez program until his death from cancer in August 2012, and despite Hughes’ illness, she drove to Boston to visit him before his passing. “When he passed away, there was a concern to everyone attached to his program whether or not it would continue,” said Kayla Truppi, Hughes’ neighbor and childhood friend as well as a co-founder and current representative for Carly’s Kids.
“They were really close,” said BC classmate and friend Alyssa Rosenfeld, LSOE ’11, who participated in the Natchez Immersion program with Hughes. “Holy Family was a big part of our lives at BC, especially Carly’s life in her last two years at BC. It added another layer to their relationship.”
The trip made a great impact on Hughes. “In her junior year, she went on the winter Natchez trip and she fell in love with it,” Rosenfeld said.
“From the day we got back from that first trip, she knew she wanted to go again, and she wanted to lead the trip the next year,” said Robyn Antonucci, another friend in LSOE ’11 who traveled to Natchez with Hughes and Rosenfeld.
At the Holy Family School, the BC student volunteers take on a variety of tasks, from building repairs to fundraising in the local community to working in the classrooms. “It is an absolutely amazing place,” Vouvalides said. “Carly wasn’t raised Catholic, but when she went there, she said, ‘Mom, I feel like I’m at home.’”
She recalled making breakfast for the volunteers when they stopped in on their way back to BC. “The enthusiasm these kids had for what they had done, how they were helping the school, it was really something,” she said.
Hughes’s diagnosis on Oct. 8, 2012, just two days before her 24th birthday, failed to dampen this enthusiasm. Despite a grueling series of operations, her mother never remembers her complaining or questioning why this had happened to her, even after a procedure that removed her stomach and rendered her unable to eat or drink for 10 days.
“They told her it was Stage Four, and she said it didn’t matter,” Vouvalides said. “She was going to get better, and she was going to get her life back.”
So when Hughes passed away on Feb. 17, 2013, her friends and family sought to continue what she had begun. In founding the Carly’s Kids Foundation, they hope to benefit the school that influenced her so much, as well as contribute to research on her type of cancer, a particularly important goal, since the disease typically affects much older adults.
Besides the Holy Family School, a portion of the proceeds from the foundation’s work benefits Julian Abrams’s esophageal and gastric cancer research fund at Columbia University Medical Center, which focuses on the type of cancer that affected Hughes, and the Carly Elizabeth Hughes Memorial Vascular Research Fund, which has been created in her honor.
“Carly was a very engaging person with a resilient personality,” Truppi said. “She could demand attention but smother you with love all at the same time. I believe these are the same qualities we want to see out of the foundation. Its focus is on two great causes that I think everyone out there can relate to in some way, education and medical research.
“It is a great way not only to carry on a mission she would have for herself but to honor her as well,” she said. “We are building this foundation with the hopes to make a difference. Whether it be supporting students of the Holy Family School or helping to get one step closer to finding a cure to a horrific disease, we want to positively affect the life of others the same way that Carly did every day.”
The funding provided by Carly’s Kids benefits the Holy Family School in particular, given its recent lack of funding from the archdiocese as a result of low enrollment. “Ultimately, the goal is to help the Holy Family School in whatever way we can, and to restore it to an elementary school, which it was before it became an early learning center,” Vouvalides said. “The school gets no funding from the archdiocese. It is completely funded by donations and grants.”
Carly’s Kids, then, has the potential to make a significant impact. “We want this to continue as an option for kids in Natchez, since public schools in Mississippi are some of the worst in the country,” Antonucci said. “Holy Family gives them a leg up.”
“They care so much about educating the kids, with so few resources,” Rosenfeld added.
The foundation staff sees this as a way to carry on Carly’s work. “It was her wish to someday teach—her degree was in education,” Vouvalides said. “She would have loved to have more time at the Holy Family School.”
Antonucci expressed a similar sentiment. “It’s Irene’s way of truly living out what her daughter wanted to do, and that is making sure that the Holy Family School stays open,” she said. “The school meant so much to her, and Irene was aware of that.”
Hughes’s story has already made an impact, only months after the organization’s founding. Natchez’s local newspaper, the Natchez Democrat, planned to post pictures on its website of Vouvalides’s first visit to the Holy Family School to present a $15,000 check—the result of the Haworth Road Runner’s Association 5k, held in Carly’s N.J. hometown—but upon learning the foundation’s story, the paper decided instead to feature her visit on the front page.