Parents Find Solace in Olivia Constants Foundation
Published on July 14th, 2016
With school age children on summer break and the junior programs getting cranked up, the promise of a memorable sailing season was shaken on June 23, 2011 when fourteen-year-old Olivia Constants died during her Club 420 class in Annapolis, MD.
Olivia and her skipper had capsized, and the hook on Olivia’s trapeze harness got caught on the rigging and prevented her from surfacing. What followed was a valued discussion on trapeze entanglement, but as the Severna Park Voice reports, Olivia’s parents Steve and Dorothy Constants continue to share her legacy….
Friends, family and those touched by Olivia’s spirit gathered at the Severn Sailing Association one day after the fifth anniversary of the accident. The event was not meant to mourn a loss but rather to celebrate the life that Olivia lived, and highlight the accomplishments made by her legacy through the Olivia Constants Foundation (OCF).
Established by Steve and Dorothy shortly after Olivia’s passing, the foundation has been the driving force in spreading Olivia’s spirit, along with the message of loving life and loving others. Its three main focuses – scholarships, grants and volunteer work – have, over the course of five years, given students and adults new opportunities and support when they need it the most.
In its first year, the OCF had only enough money to give one worthy student a scholarship. Since then, the foundation has given almost 50 scholarships away, with plans to award 11 more this year. Steve mentioned that some years, the OFC receives close to 100 applications.
“The scholarships allow us to support the next generation of leaders,” said Steve, adding that the award is character-based, not necessarily entirely scholastic. “It’s more about their character, reflected by how others describe them,” he explained. “A lot of times, they have a character trait that we saw in Olivia.”
The mission of OCF is not to award the most qualified students, or give away the biggest grants to the most expensive new programs but to support the things that Steve and Dorothy believe Olivia would support as well. “It’s not what we would like to do … it’s what would Olivia do?” Dorothy said.
Both parents explained that, like many kids today, Olivia was affected by bullying. Because of that, much of the OCF’s focus has shifted toward fighting bullying and its roots.
“It’s so easy to get caught up in [bullying], and the effects are devastating,” Steve said. They described the types of programs they have supported through grants, such as Girl Talk, a program that allows high school girls to mentor their middle school counterparts. “We didn’t come up with the program, but we’ve been wholeheartedly supporting any school that wants to do those programs, because that type of mentorship is what’s needed.”
But bullying isn’t the only cause that has earned a grant from the OCF. Some have been provided to schools that are unable to afford to improve the technology that students possess. “We believe in giving, providing, making sure that the students have an environment that allows them to reach their full potential,” Steve said. “Anything we see that can help and reflect Olivia, we’ll support.”
In fact, for the last five years, OCF volunteers have given their time to the Lighthouse Shelter in Annapolis to prepare breakfast for the residents one Sunday per month. Some volunteers donate food and others serve, but all are sure to spread the good-heartedness and welcoming warmth that reflects the spirit of Olivia. To see residents of the Lighthouse Shelter be touched by Olivia, the parents agreed, is when they realize that they are doing it for the right reasons and Olivia’s spirit and personality is shining through what they do.
Though it’s focused on its own endeavors, the OCF will sometimes partner with other local nonprofits such as Food Link and Walk the Walk to extend its reach. “We can give them dollars or resources, and we know that it’s going to something where we don’t have to recreate the wheel, but we can double whatever’s needed for that organization,” Steve said, noting that it’s important for the OCF to give to other organizations because it spreads Olivia’s legacy that much more.
Through the work of Steve, Dorothy and countless volunteers, the OCF has accomplished so much in its five-year history, but its founders believe the work is just meant to be. “It’s funny because sometimes we reflect on all the things that we’ve done and people will say, ‘Wow, you’ve done a lot,’ but for us, it’s just one step at a time,” Dorothy said. “You just get involved wherever it’s needed.”
For both parents, the success of the foundation has built a monument to the type of person Olivia was. Each new project shares her kindness, warmth, willingness to help others, and commitment to sharing a smile with whomever she believed needed one. “Her larger-than-life personality was something that people told us we should find a way to continue,” explained Steve. “It’s really not a matter of the number [of projects]. It’s making sure that what we do has an impact, and seeing the reflection of Olivia in what we do. If we see that stuff, we know we picked the right program.”
For those touched by the foundation, it serves as a reminder that there is still so much good in the world, and it’s never too late to add more. “She was a 14-year-old who loved life, so we want to remind people that if a 14-year-old can impact a world, why can’t we? Why can’t we be a part of that?” said Steve.
For more information on the Olivia Constants Foundation or to get involved: www.oliviaconstants.org