2013 Bob Carter Companies/Simms Award for Outstanding Youth in Philanthropy, Individual: Marli Overgard
Nominated by Gundersen Lutheran Medical Foundation and the AFP Wisconsin, Upper Mississippi Valley Chapter
In November, 2011, Marli Overgard’s world changed forever when her family suffered a terrible loss when her 12 year old cousin, Hunter Biermeier, died from injuries sustained in an ATV accident. While her grieving family gathered at Gundersen Lutheran Medical Center at Hunter’s side, Marli noticed how her youngest cousins were affected. They had nothing to distract them from the frightening circumstances around them, and that experience gave Marli an idea.
Marli, 14, along with her best friend, Molly Young, were inspired to turn the tragedy into something positive. As part of their High School Key Club and Faith Formation Project for Confirmation, they began raising money to provide stuffed bears and blankets for children at the hospital where Hunter died.
The original goal was humble: raise $500 to purchase 25 bears and blankets and deliver them personally to the hospital in person. But three months later, they raised $2,000, resulting in 100 bears and blankets delivered over eight months. Hospital staff, medical flight teams and ambulance crews requested them. In November 2012, Hunter became the “Bear in the Air” for MedLink AIR at Gundersen Lutheran Medical Center.
The project inspired the community. An employer in La Crosse was so overwhelmed they donated $500. Hunter’s basketball team made 30 blankets. Hunter’s family made a personal pledge of $20,000 to name the family waiting area in the new Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Gundersen Lutheran after Hunter.
Those amazing things all occurred within the first eight months. At that point, Marli realized her work could be a permanent memorial to Hunter’s memory. Marli, along with Molly and Hunter’s parents, Teresa and Kyle Biermeier, co-founded a charity called Hugs from Hunter Foundation. This charity promotes Hunter’s positive spirit and carries out his dream of reading books to sick children in the hospital.
Marli is an active board member and is responsible for fundraising, budgeting, event planning and grant and scholarship writing. The first official fundraiser for the charity was a partnership with the Rochester Youth Baseball Association, generating nearly $1,000. More events are being planned, including a waffle breakfast and a children’s mud run or a softball tournament. Following a feature story on a television station in La Crosse, Marli’s foundation received numerous offers of support as well. To date, the foundation received another $3,000 in contributions, a corporate sponsor and annual pledges of $6,000 that will keep the project moving forward.
Perhaps most remarkable about Marli’s philanthropy is her long-range vision. Currently Hugs provides 30 bears and blankets each month to the La Crosse Children’s Miracle Network Hospital, Medlink AIR flight and Tri-State ambulance crews serving La Crosse County. The project is already expanding to Rochester and the Twin cities ahead of schedule. Within five years, her goal is to have expanded beyond the region and serving the 180 Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals across the U.S.
For her extraordinary work that has helped so many children and inspired donors everywhere, AFP is pleased to present the Bob Carter Companies/William R. Simms Award for Outstanding Youth in Philanthropy, Individual, to Marli Overgard.