They say that hope rises out of many tragedies. Such is the case with Amanda Charney.
The 28-year-old school-based speech-language pathologist was engaged to be married the end of 2009 to Marc Small, a Special Forces medical sergeant for the United States Army. The couple met five years ago at her brother-in-law's Halloween party and the relationship blossomed into a true romance. Small and Charney dreamed of traveling, she as an SLP and he as a physician's assistant, and one day opening a private speech clinic. Small even came up with the name, "Small Steps in Speech," which not only incorporates the name the couple would share, but also symbolizes the small steps it takes for some children to learn how to communicate.
"He loved my profession. He loved what I did, knew I loved working with children, and he always encouraged me to start my own practice," Charney said.
On Feb. 12, 2009, Marc Small was killed in the line of duty only three weeks after arriving in Afghanistan. Charney learned the tragic news the next morning. Although devastated, Charney refused to give up all her immediate dreams and moved into action quickly. The grieving bride-to-be created a nonprofit organization, Small Steps in Speech. She asked that well-wishers, instead of sending flowers, donate money to get the fledgling organization started.
Since Small's memorial services less than a year ago, Charney and her volunteers have worked feverishly to collect donations and support. And it's working. On Aug. 1, 2009, three days before what would have been Small's 30th birthday, Small Steps in Speech and Small's sister, Megan MacFarland, organized the first "On Your Marc" 5K. Organizers expected the run, held in Small's hometown of Lower Providence, Pa., to attract 300 runners at most. Much to Charney's surprise, almost 600 people participated, raising more than $25,000.
"We just thought it would be a local event for friends and family, but people really came out," she said. "It was amazing!"
Small Steps in Speech continues to grow and Charney hopes to begin awarding grants soon. Although her original idea had been to provide services focused on speech, Charney has been working with children with a variety of communication disabilities, and the goal now is to expand the offerings to children with communication disorders who need help paying for treatment, devices, surgery, or other services. She and the organization's board members are accepting applications and are looking for professionals to nominate children who would benefit from such a grant.
"We want this money to go for treatment for children in private practices, schools, hospitals—wherever this money is needed. We want to hear from professionals who can recommend students or patients who would benefit," Charney said. "I love working for children and I've seen what extra help can do for a child's communication."
As for what her fiancé would think of her efforts, Charney is candid. "I cry every single day and I'm still so sad," she admitted. "But it puts a smile on my face knowing what we're doing and I know somewhere he's excited about what we're making."
For more information, including nomination and application forms, visit the Small Steps in Speech Web site.