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Carrying on For Carly

Supporting education for children in need came to define the late Carly Hughes' years at BC. Now, a foundation seeks to keep her work going

10/31/13
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“The motto of the Holy Family School is ‘Learn so you can love so you can live,’” says Michael Hughes, who was the boyfriend of Carly Hughes (above). “I feel like this phrase really epitomized Carly’s personality well. She lived through loving.” (Photo courtesy of Carly's Kids Foundation)

By Sean Smith | Chronicle Editor

Published: Oct. 31, 2013

Lynch School of Education 2011 alumna Carly Hughes — who would have turned 25 this month — relished many aspects of her Boston College education, say family and friends. A particularly cherished BC experience was participating in the annual Lynch School service trip to the Holy Family School in Natchez, Miss., one of the country’s oldest African-American Catholic schools in one of America’s most impoverished areas.

“After the first time she went there, she told me, ‘Mom, it feels like home,’” recalled her mother, Irene Vouvalides. “Having been there, I can understand why it felt that way to Carly. The people are simply wonderful and so dedicated to the kids.”

Hughes died of gastric cancer earlier this year, but in her memory Vouvalides established “Carly’s Kids: A Foundation for Education” that supports education for children in need — children like those at Holy Family, who made such an impression on her daughter. Vouvalides presented a $15,000 check on behalf of the foundation to Holy Family last week.

Founded by the Society of St. Joseph in 1890 to teach African-American children during the era of segregation, Holy Family built a reputation for helping students achieve academic and professional success. In 1998, the Lynch School launched a campaign to save Holy Family, collecting donations of books and supplies and raising money. Every year, the Lynch School has sent a contingent to Holy Family to help with building and maintenance projects, and to spend time with the school’s students and teachers.

Despite such efforts, Holy Family’s difficulties – ascribed to racial and social dynamics as well as economic conditions – have persisted. Five years ago, Holy Family discontinued its elementary school program and became an early learning center for children aged two to five. 

But in spite of its woes — or maybe because of them — Holy Family was a special place for Hughes, according to her boyfriend Michael Hughes ’11, whom she talked into going along on the service trip in their senior year.

“She went for the kids, or the ‘babies,’ as she called them,” he said. “Every time I looked around, Carly seemed to have multiple kids around her, always one sitting on her lap, and they were all laughing and having a good time. Carly had such a radiant, loving, fun personality that made her love the kids and — more importantly, the kids love her.

“One of my best memories was the carnival day we held for the kids. I felt like every time I turned around, Carly somehow had another kid in her arms. She sang, danced and helped as many as possible with arts and crafts. What struck me was how Carly seemed to be having even more fun than the kids. That was her personality. She was always happy and somehow spread that to everyone around her.”

Carly’s friend and 2011 classmate Alyssa Rosenfeld said: “Her own ability to love others so deeply was very similar to the ways the teachers at Holy Family related to the students and to visitors. She felt passionate about the quality education that the students were receiving and was inspired by the teachers and faculty at Holy Family.”

Another friend and 2011 alumna, Robyn Antonucci, added, “As soon as she came back from her trip in her junior year, she knew she wanted to return and take on a bigger role in preparing, organizing, and fundraising for the next year's trip. She was chosen as one of the leaders for the trip her senior year. She helped to organize numerous successful fundraisers and made sure that students at BC were aware of the importance of keeping Holy Family open.”

When the idea of creating a foundation in memory of Carly came up, recalls Michael Hughes, Holy Family was a logical choice as its focus. “Carly had talked so often about how much she loved it there. I had a few conversations with her, even while she was sick, about how she wished she could go back there and how she was planning on donating again for the spring trip.  I think the experiences she had down there always made her want to go back and teach, which she was hoping to do later in life.

“The motto of the Holy Family School is ‘Learn so you can love so you can live.’ I feel like this phrase really epitomized Carly's personality well. She lived through loving.”

Lynch School Assistant Dean of Undergraduate Student Services and Associate Professor Audrey Friedman recalls Carly as a well-loved, thoughtful and considerate student – she once presented Friedman, an inveterate lover of iced coffee, with a Dunkin Donuts gift card – who could often be found chatting with John Cawthorne, former Lynch School associate dean for students and outreach and architect of the school’s support for Holy Family.

“I think this foundation represents a perfect intersection, in that it not only honors the memory of Carly but by extension that of John Cawthorne, too,” said Friedman of Cawthorne, who died last year. “His desire to make Holy Family a focus for outreach fit squarely into the mission of the Lynch School. So the foundation will provide a means through which the efforts of people like Carly and John can live on.”

The Carly’s Kids foundation also will support educational research for prevention and treatment of esophageal and gastric cancers.

For more on Carly’s Kids: A Foundation for Education, see http://carlyskidsfoundation.com