BENNINGTON -- A local teenager recently raised more than $1,400 online to hold a surprise 60th birthday party for her father, who has been unable to work because of a brain tumor.
Caroline Coffield, 13, who goes by CC, wanted to do something special for her father, Brent. Her friend, Erica Sholes, and her father shared a Dec. 27 birthday, so she got the idea to throw a combined birthday party for the two of them. That was when CC and Erica approached Erica's mother, Teresa Sholes.
"CC had been mulling this over for a few months," said Sholes, "Erica and Brent share a birthday, and they always make sure to call and wish each other a happy birthday." ‘
Sholes knew she couldn't afford the kind of party CC was envisioning, so she did some research into online fundraising.
She discovered Give Forward.com, a site dedicated to helping people raise money, especially for family members with medical conditions. Sholes also reached out to Maru Leon, Vice President of Marketing and Events at Mount Anthony Country Club, whose daughter, Gabby, is a classmate of CC and Erica at the Sacred Heart School of Bennington. Maru and her partner, David Griffin, who own the Country Club, had been very supportive of Coffield in the past, with Griffin even driving him to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H. on multiple occasions for MRIs and to visit an oncologist.
Sholes and Leon sat down with the girls and talked about all the expenses that would go into an event like this. CC wanted a sit-down dinner, with as many of her father's friends and family as possible. "It was a lesson for all the girls," said Sholes. The girls learned that even though they were all friends, and the Country Club was able to donate both the space and the cake, there were still considerable expenses that would have to be factored in.
They set their fundraising goal at $700.
Brent Coffield moved to Bennington in 1989 from New Martinsville, West Virginia after the death of his father. His brother Terry was already living in Bennington, working as a radiologist. In January 1990 he opened a dentist office on Union Street, where he worked for the next 21 years.
Everything changed in October 2010, when he went into the hospital for an MRI on his neck. He wasn't particularly worried. "Every dentist has neck problems," Coffield said, noting the typical hunched posture of his profession. However, when doctors had a look at the MRI, what they found wasn't nearly so innocuous.
Surgery was scheduled to remove the tumor in January. Coffield was able continue practicing, as the only symptom that had manifested itself was a slight tremor in his hands. After the surgery, which so fas has appeared to be successful, Coffield hoped to be back in the office by March. "I had kind of limped along in my practice," said Coffield, who said that other doctors in the building and his hygienist covered for him, but eventually he realized he would have to end his practice.
Coffield said that most of the limitations he faced were physical, from his surgery. "I would like to be productive, I would like to contribute, but I just don't have the energy," said Coffield, who estimates that he has good energy for about four hours every day, then he needs to sit and rest. Despite this he always makes every effort to attend the after-school events of his two daughters. CC plays soccer, basketball, and softball. Her older sister MaryHope, 15, loves to sing, and participates in musicals, said Coffield. He says both are good students.
"Doing that, I have a big support group at Sacred Heart School," said Coffield, "That's a very caring environment; it's a big family, with everybody there supporting each others' kids."
Sholes agreed with Coffield's assessment. "The families are the strength of Sacred Heart," she said. Sholes said that when her husband passed away in 2012, the other families were there to offer support to both her and Erica.
The first morning after the GiveForward campaign began, Sholes rushed to the computer to see how much they had made in the first night. She was disappointed to see that their total still rested at $0, but it didn't last for long. By the end of that first day, Dec. 3, they had just over $100. A week later, they had over $1000.
"You could see the reality washing through CC, the idea that this really could happen," said Sholes.
In the end, they raised $1,415, over twice their original goal. According to Sholes, while some of the donators were her friends and family, most of those who donated were associated of Coffield. "It's a testament to Brent," she said, "They all absolutely adore Brent, and they wanted to see CC's dream come true."
On the day of the event, Coffield still had no idea what was going to happen. "I thought I was going to dinner with eight people," he said. What he found instead was a large gathering of many of his family and friends.
"When I was growing up in a town about half the size of Bennington, my father, a family physician, would say to us that there is nothing that you guys do that I won't hear about. He was right. I had said to my girls on different occasions there is nothing that you do in town that I won't hear about. Well not only can they, they did. As did all the attendees. I had no clue about this. How CC organized this I'm at a loss," said Coffield.
"I have been blessed by the support of two great girls, a great faculty at Sacred Heart School, a wonderful group of parents, and a great group of kids who attend SHSF," said Coffield, "I have been supported by family, Grandma and Grandpa, friends, former patients, clergy, members of Second Congregational Church, physicians, and counselors. Everyone has been great and helpful in some way."
Derek Carson can be reached for comment at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @DerekCarsonBB