Lauren Strong Giving Back Hope Festival set for Saturday

Lauren Thomas

CALCUTTA — One year ago a Beaver Local High School volleyball player had a stroke. In celebration of her recovery, her family is holding the Lauren Strong Giving Back Hope Festival to raise awareness about strokes and to give back to the Ronald McDonald House and Akron Children’s Hospital.

On July 14, 2018, Lauren Thomas had her stroke while playing volleyball. Lauren was 16 years old at the time. She is entering her senior year at Beaver Local and is on track to graduate.

“They [Akron Children’s and Ronald McDonald] did so much for us, and seeing other parents go through what we were,” said Huck Hughes, Lauren’s uncle and legal guardian. “We always said if we were lucky enough to do something we would.”

The festival will be from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday at the Beaver Local track. Starting at 1 p.m. there will be a walk for awareness and balloon release, with all proceeds from the walk going to the Ronald McDonald House and Akron Children’s Hospital. There will be food and craft vendors, music, 50/50 raffle, a Chinese auction, contests for various age groups and a car cruise. OVCT nursing students and staff will be present working at a health station and providing free blood pressure checks.

There will also be a dunk tank set up, with proceeds going to Samantha Magness, a seventh grade student at East Palestine whose heart stopped while playing softball in late June.

“We just want to do the best we can, and to bring awareness to heart issues,” said Kaylyn Cochran, Lauren’s cousin.

The events will induce a Playdoh sculpture contest for ages 3-13, a jump rope and hula hoop contests for ages 4-13, a baby contest for infants between newborn and 36 months old, and a cornhole tournament for two person teams. The money raised by these events will be split between donations and cash prizes for winners.

Lauren spent four months in Akron Children’s Hospital receiving treatment, with her family staying at the Ronald McDonald House during that time period. Doctors warned Lauren’s family that at best she would spend her life in bed or a wheelchair, because the stroke affected the entire left side of her brain, but Lauren has defied the odds.

“I’m just super proud that she is here, she’s walking and talking,” said Marla Hughes, Lauren’s aunt and legal guardian. “She is just being so positive, she doesn’t let the setbacks upset her she just keeps moving forward.”

The group is hoping to raise $10,000 to donate and they are planning on doing this fundraiser yearly. They have also talked about introducing a “Lauren’s Law” that would require stroke education for coaches to better spot and treat strokes in school age children, but right now planning this year’s festival and getting Lauren better are the top priorities.

Lauren attends therapy three times a week and works with a personal trainer two times a week. She has been involved in the planning process, but this festival has mostly been put together by Marla and Cochran. Lauren will also be helping to coach volleyball this year because doctors have told her she shouldn’t compete anymore.