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In the United States Marine Corps, they say the day a recruit graduates is the most honorable day in a Marine's life. On Friday, Aug. 31, when her only son, Andrew, officially becomes a U.S. Marine, Kim Hodge wants to be there.
But making the trip to Parris Island, South Carolina, to join the multitude of families celebrating isn't as easy as simply heading south. Unable to work due to increasing disability from multiple sclerosis (MS), Kim relies on a motorized wheelchair. To make the journey, she faces the extra expense of special travel assistance and medical needs.
"She simply cannot afford the trip," says Kim's daughter Stephanie Hodge O'Sullivan. "She requires constant care of an aid and special travel accommodations, including a room that can accommodate her chair. She can't bring her chair on a plane or a train."
To help out, Stephanie, family and friends have organized a fundraising Pasta Supper for Kim. The event, set for Friday, July 20 at Guilford Community Center, is sponsored by Guilford VFW. The goal is to raise at least $4,000 for a three-night stay in South Carolina.
Used to helping and supporting others, Kim's humbled by the response that's already coming in from many. To help raise awareness, Stephanie's started a Facebook page and produced a heartwarming YouTube video about her mom. Kim, who raised her three children on her own, has slowly been losing ground to MS over the last 20 years. About eight years ago, she lost the ability to walk and stand.
Despite her limitations, Kim continues to be a tireless volunteer for the MS Society, for which she established and continues to organize a local MS Walk annually. She also enjoys serving as a volunteer with the Guilford Agricultural Society. In addition, Kim assists her elderly parents. She enjoys the love and support of her family.
The Guilford native (née Renchy, Guilford High School Class of '75) is sister to Guilford Police Sgt. Steven Renchy and daughter to a former Guilford firefighter. A former Guilford retail business owner (Lace & Lingerie, Shoreline Plaza), Kim lived in Madison for a time while raising Stephanie and Andrew, then moved back to Guilford, where her younger daughter Kelsey (now a Guilford EMT studying nursing) completed high school.
Kim's MS symptoms started becoming noticeable shortly after Kelsey was born in 1990, but Kim didn't receive an official diagnosis until 1992. A few years later, Kim got involved with her first local MS walk.
"I didn't know about the walk. My friend said, 'I'm going to put a team together for you, Kim's Cruisers.' We went to the walk in Groton and that's where I volunteered to help out. I got a committee together and we started a walk in Madison [now in Clinton] and here I am, 13 or 14 years later," says Kim, who still organizes the annual fundraising event with the help of friends.
"I've got a really small committee I work with, a set of really faithful volunteers who are always there to help."
This spring, together with 11 other Connecticut walks, the event helped to raise $1.3 million for the MS Society. Kim also began helping out the Guilford Agricultural Society, who are "like family" she says, during fair seasons beginning about four years ago.
"I'm always going to volunteer," Kim says, with her trademark wide smile. "I'm not going to stop living because I have MS. I have MS; it doesn't have me."
Her spirit, support, and smile have always been there to inspire others, says Stephanie. Now, many individuals and organizations are acting in support of Kim. VFW Commander and Community Chef Larry Santamaria will cook the pasta supper, sponsored by Guilford VFW. The Town of Guilford is lending Community Center event space and contributing silent auction businesses include (to date) Guilford Texaco, Jerry's Transmission, Star Fish Market, B & B Performance, and Bishop's Orchards Farm Market.
With the community behind them, Stephanie's confident Kim will be at Andrew's graduation ceremony on Aug. 31.
"My mom has always been there for us," says Stephanie. "She's never missed a game or a graduation and she wants to be there, with the other Marine moms, when Andrew graduates."
Operation: Military Mom to Parris Island Pasta Supper, Silent Auction, & 50/50 raffle is Friday, July 20 from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Guilford Community Center, 32 Church Street. Tickets are $20 per person; $10 children younger than 12. Business donations of silent auction gift baskets also greatly appreciated. Separate monetary donations can also be made at Guilford Savings Bank or by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org or 203-779-9414.
For a YouTube link to see the video mentioned in this story, or to make a contribution via Paypal, visit www.facebook.com/events/436143959741103/