By Kelly Daniel
For the Opelika Observer
On July 20, Lee County residents held a fundraising event to benefit Kayla Grimes, a Beauregard resident who lost everything in the tornadoes that struck Lee County earlier this year. Not only did Kayla lose her father, stepmother and best friend, but she dealt with serious injuries that required multiple surgeries and rehab. A large percentage of her expenses are out of pocket because, as the flyer explained, “She was on her father’s insurance plan, so she now has only minimal governmental coverage. Not enough!”
How Karing-4-Kayla Began
When Lee County resident Alicia McLeod heard Kayla’s story, she felt the need to help. She organized Karing-4-Kayla to help Kayla’s family to pay these rising medical costs that have built up from the day after the tornado until now. The all-day fundraiser was part-concert and part-festival, offering entertainment and raffle prizes donated by individuals from the region. The Christian Motorcycle Association’s Trinity Riders completed a domino run for the event, raising money for Kayla while competing for prizes. A pet show gave attendees a chance to show off their beloved animals. Local musicians provided music from genres including gospel, rock and country, while various vendors provided attractions such as bounce houses, a petting zoo and games for children at the event. Vendors were also present, showcasing their products and services. Discounted pet grooming was offered by Pampered Pets, while local individuals and businesses sold handmade crafts and locally made foods.
Kayla’s Resilience in the Face of Tragedy
In spite of the tragic loss of loved ones and the severe injuries that she suffered, Kayla is often smiling. Salem resident Taylor Osborn attended the event and said that Kayla’s positivity inspires her.
“Just seeing her smile put a smile on my face,” Osborn said. “It just goes to show every one of us that there is hope in this world, and if she can fight to survive, then we can too.”
One of the fundraising efforts involved putting Sheriff Jay Jones in jail at the event. Jones volunteered to be put in jail until he raised $400 from event attendees. When Jones had raised almost $400, donations to free Jay Jones slowed down, which Kayla noticed as the clock kept ticking. “Kayla felt bad about it, so she decided she wanted to go to jail too,” McLeod said. “So they put her in jail with Jay, they raised $540 and both went free.”
Neighbors Helping Each Other
The festival is a prime example of how local people and businesses can come together to help a neighbor in need. McLeod, who shared that she has been involved in fundraising for as long as she can remember, started the effort, and she was later joined by many volunteers and her co-organizer Annah Murphy St. John. Karing-4-Kayla became a community effort, with participation from many local organizations, including first responders from multiple departments. “I love how everyone there including the musicians, the vendors, the volunteers, the first responders, and Sheriff Jay Jones took time out of their busy lives to show their support for her,” said event attendee Taylor Osborn.
Event organizer Alicia McLeod said that the event started small but grew as more people learned about the good cause that the fundraiser would benefit. While a couple of unforeseen obstacles caused the fundraiser to go off schedule, McLeod said that she wasn’t worried because of her faith that God would ensure success for the endeavor. “It’s going to go just the way it was intended,” McLeod said. “I’ve said and said, God is totally in charge of this, and everything has been put right at my feet the moment I needed it.”
Changing Needs for a Growing Event
As needs have arisen, community members have risen to the occasion to provide support. After a few of McLeod’s friends advised her that she needed a committee, many people volunteered to help and became an unofficial committee.
Similarly, those in charge of the event discussed their concerns about reaching their donation targets the day before Karing-4-Kayla happened. Shortly after voicing these concerns, the organizers learned that they had raised $3,000 before the festival had even started. During the afternoon of the event, McLeod said that she hoped to raise $20,000 for Kayla. While the amount raised at this event won’t cover all of Kayla’s bills, it is a significant amount that will make it easier. Kayla’s mother, Michelle Gladden, expressed her gratitude toward everyone involved in the event by saying that she was “speechless” about the outpouring of community support and that she “can’t thank everybody enough.”