Fundraiser benefiting critically ill children helps a mother who lost her son in an accident channel grief in a positive way

Finding strength through pain, hoping to believe in tomorrow

April 05, 2006|By KAREN NITKIN | KAREN NITKIN,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Nancy Caplan's foot jiggles as she talks. Her eyes fill with tears. Her voice breaks.

It has been just over 12 weeks since her only child, Scott, was killed in a car crash at a malfunctioning traffic light, and she is just trying to get through each day. "I force myself to eat," she said.

Yet she somehow gets out of the house and goes to work each day. And now she is finding the strength to promote a fundraising event this weekend that will raise money in Scott's name for Believe in Tomorrow, a nonprofit organization that provides services to critically ill children and their families.

"I want the focus to be on the fundraiser, not on my pain," she said.

On Sunday, the Bombshell hair salon will hold a cut-a-thon, with Paul Mitchell stylists from around the country coming to Ellicott City. All of the money collected will go to Believe in Tomorrow.

Caplan, the director of business administration at the law firm of Davis, Agnor, Rapaport and Skalney, has been involved with Believe in Tomorrow for 17 years and serves on the board.

"I believe in it," she said. "I just have to somehow believe in tomorrow."

Caplan has been distributing posters and fliers, letting people know about the event, which will be held Sunday at Bombshell, in the Enchanted Forest shopping center, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Believe in Tomorrow, founded in 1982, provides support special housing and adventures such as bull-riding and blimp rides to sick children and their families. Caplan hopes the money raised Sunday will go toward naming a room for Scott at the foundation's new extended-stay facility, the House at St. Casimir, which will be specifically for children with bone-marrow transplants and their families. It is scheduled to open in Baltimore May 10.

Brian Morrison, the organization's founder, said another possibility is a room at the Children's House at Johns Hopkins Hospital, where Scott volunteered.

Jen Horter, the owner of the salon, which opened in January, said she had been looking for a charity to support with the salon opening when Wendy Wheatley, who works at the nearby Jilly's restaurant, suggested Believe in Tomorrow. Wheatley's son, Brandon Rust, was a close friend of Scott.

Horter researched the organization and agreed. For the cut-a-thon, all haircuts -- even ones performed by stylists that normally charge $200-- will cost $40, Horter said.

Horter noted that she is part of a team of stylists with the Paul Mitchell company who travel to events such as New York's Fashion Week to style hair for celebrities and models. Other members of the team will be coming in for the opening of her salon. There also will be a silent auction of salon products and services, she said.

Horter said she never met Scott, and she never intended for the cut-a-thon to be a memorial to him. Her goal in holding the event was to stage a grand opening for the salon while donating to a worthy cause.

"I don't want people to feel like they're coming to something that would be sad," she said.

Wheatley said Sunday's cut-a-thon has four purposes: to celebrate the opening of the salon, to keep Scott's memory alive, to let people know about Believe in Tomorrow and to help Nancy Caplan. She said she expects about 500 people to attend.

"He was Nancy's only child," Wheatley said of Scott. "Her whole life was Scott."

She recalled that Brandon and other friends would often have dinner at the Caplan house, with Nancy Caplan making a point of cooking foods that her young visitors liked best.

She said Scott and her son attended middle school and high school together, graduating from Wilde Lake High School in 2004. Scott was in his second year at Howard County Community College, pursuing a double major in business management and business administration.

On Jan. 6, he and Theresa Howard, 18, of Eldersburg, were killed when, according to police, a tractor-trailer ran through a malfunctioning traffic light at Interstate 95 and Route 175 in Elkridge and hit the car in which they were riding.

The driver, Meghan E. St. Martin, 18, of Marriottsville, survived the crash, as did the driver of the tractor-trailer.

More than 1,100 people attended Scott's funeral, noted Caplan, who said she has been trying to help Scott's friends cope with their grief. "You have a lot of kids hurting," she said.

Caplan said when Wheatley first approached her about the fundraiser, she numbly agreed, but was in shock. "Now I'm appreciative," she said.

"I don't want to put my energy into being angry," she said.

Caplan said Scott, who was 19 when he died, knew that Believe in Tomorrow was important to her. In fact, he wrote an essay for his freshman writing class at Howard Community College that touched on her work with the organization. Caplan said she has kept that essay, plus a Valentine's Day card from her son, on her bedside table ever since Scott gave them to her.

Scott wrote: "The Believe in Tomorrow foundation has been trying to put a smile on sick children's faces for years and is something my mother has always liked to be a part of. Although death and illness make many people uncomfortable, my mother is not afraid to try to help terminally ill children and their families."

For Caplan, the pain of losing her only child has not begun to ebb. "It's like yesterday," she said. "It doesn't go away."

She is also grieving for the grandchildren that she will never have. But if there's any solace at all, it is in knowing that she raised Scott as well as she could, she said.

Divorced since before Scott was 3, she was a single mother who made her child her first priority, she said.

"He knew and I knew what we meant to each other," she said. "That is my one peace," she said in a wavering voice. "That I loved him with all my heart. There's nothing I would have changed."

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