After sailing on the 2022 Buddy Cruise, I knew it was not only something that every family on this journey deserves, but I also recognize that this journey has more expenses for some and vacations this big can be hard to go on. So I thought outside the box; if I could raise awareness, raise funds and pull off a fun day for the participants, it would be a win-win for all. And that’s exactly what I did!
On Friday, May 19th, I held my first ever charity golf tournament and Mississippi’s first ever Buddy Cruise Charity Golf Scramble. The day was filled with love from start to finish; but a lot of work went into the planning of such a big day.
What I learned through the planning: Everyone loves the story of our journey, people want to help, and there is a need and desire to be a part of something that is real. Yes, it was a lot of work, but just like everything that is rewarding, the hard part melts away at the finish line. Every call made built new friendships and support for my mission. Every face to face had smiles and warm hugs. From sponsors, to donations, to players and volunteers, each piece was met with excitement to learn from me and find ways to help. Some of the people I called on are very familiar with the life I live and understood the importance of what I was doing; additionally, the ones who I never met before were just as eager to help. I called on donations from across the country for my “I CAN” basket to raffle from friends with Down syndrome doing incredible things with their lives. I called on local help to make sure we were growing together and making Pass Christian the “Best Place to Live on the Coast” for ALL. The day is certainly a beautiful part of this story, but, the seeds planted are absolutely going to continue to grow. A love like this is one that naturally grows from here.
The golfers were met by moms and dads on this journey who came from Florida, Louisiana and from here locally, too. Think about this, the families who adore their life so much, they showed up to help. They understand the importance of opportunities, like these, best. The golfers also arrived to huge marquee lettering “BUDDY CRUISE” with balloons; in front of the balloons, there were photos that told a story of why they chose to play in THIS tournament. The photos were our families having the vacation on their lives: dancing, swimming with dolphins, riding surfboards, making crafts and making forever memories, together. From donuts to swag bags, our tournament with heart was off to a wonderful start.
I had the pleasure of sharing a glimpse of my heart before the carts took off. What I wanted the players to know was how honored I was that they showed up for us, for my Hudson, for all his buddies. Had you told me five years ago that I would be hosting an event like this, umm, not even on my radar. Not only did I host an event, we changed some hearts forever. This is all because my son, Hudson, was born. I have had the biggest doors open and welcome us in. Our friends and friendships have grown, because he was born. Life’s meaning and purpose have both changed in the most gratifying ways, and sharing this impact I’ve felt means everything.
Our special guest, Gadget the Clown, was dressed all in yellow and blue; she was ready to have fun with the players on the course. Mayor Jimmy Rafferty hit the first golfball of the day with a fun ball brought by our clown. He hit it solidly and the ball exploded with a poof cloud of white powder…. And they were off!
Seventy-five players took the course. And if golf wasn’t enough, fun, prizes, treats, extra drink tickets, dancing and more happened thought the morning. I ran around with friends and the clown to see to it that the players were having a great time. Gadget the Clown played music, swapped out white golfballs for red ones, put clown noses on the players and even hit some golfballs herself with her silly clubs.
The 7th Hole was our “Hole in One” prize of a brand new 2023 HISUN Golf Cart with a $10,000 value. Our 12th Hole was our “Closest to the Pin” with a prize of a Bay Pointe Golf Package with a $320 value. The 18th Hole was the “Longest Drive” with a prize of a Hudson Motors Inverter with a $800 value. Yes, Hudson Motors is named after my Hudson. And we, also, had a ‘Putting” contest in place. This contest had a prize of Biloxi Shuckers Dugout Box Seats for a family of four.
A huge highlight to our day was our “Celebrity Couple” Austin Underwood and Jenny Stone. Austin was there to serve lunch to all the players, but he also joined a golf team; his team came in 3rd place. Austin owns Austin’s Underdawgs and he brought his truck all the way from Texas to be a part of our day. Another huge fun fact: Austin’s fiancé, Jenny Stone, was the 2013 Inspire Winner on Buddy Cruise. How cool is this!!! This is what inclusion looks like, folks.
When everyone returned, they grabbed a dawg by Austin’s Underdawgs; they could choose from the Classic Dawg, the Straw Dawg, or the Jalapeño Straw Dawg. Several bought raffle tickets, looked at all the incredible silent auction items and even shopped at The Mustard Seed’s pop-up store on site. Our friends at The Mustard Seed came from Jackson to be a part of our day and what a beautiful piece they provided.
The laughter and the conversations that took place made my tired vanish. We did it. I looked around at the faces; old friends, new friends, shared stories, and all the hearts on full display… what a day.
At the closing ceremony, it was time to wrap up my why. Why did I do this? Well, I love my life. I love this gift of an extra chromosome. My son is exactly who he was born to be. I did this to do something big for a family on this journey. I did this to feel the impact of the work it took to make this happen. Months ago, I set out to raise awareness, host something meaningful, and I wanted to give something big to a local family. The family I selected would get a cabin on the 2023 Buddy Cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Wonder of the Seas, if I could make this tournament successful.
We did it! It was a super successful day. It was a joint effort that superseded my every expectation. The love poured out…
I was thanking everyone for making this day possible. I honored all the families with loved ones with Down syndrome, by having them stand for applause. I then called out to the family I chose for the big gift; Krishelle’s face said it all. The surprise was truly a surprise. I had filled in her husband and her mom, but to Krishelle, this was felt in that very second. You see, I selected this family because I knew that they had adopted a little boy with Down syndrome. That’s pretty much all I knew outside of us being close neighbors. I said I needed this to be local. I love raising money for impactful causes, but we often don’t feel the money raised in the areas we live. Thats why this was so important to me. The crazy perfect to this is that I could not have selected a better family for this gift. This family has adopted two children, both with special needs. Krishelle prayed for a baby with Down syndrome. When she was little, she loved a boy with Down syndrome and always wanted a baby like her friend, Dennis. Two weeks after her prayer, she got a call. This baby would die she was told. He had outlived the expectation of the hospital, so he needed a home to go to until he passed. This baby’s mom was, also, born with Down syndrome and told he would die. He had zero human touch the first five months of his life… until Krishelle got that call. She has loved him and saved his life; I know he has likely saved hers, too. Krishelle’s boy is growing and thriving. She, also, makes sure that he has opportunities to know his birth mother, too. We all have our stories, our heavy life brings us, but, this family has taken hard things and made them beautiful. This is a deserving family of a needed vacation like this. It was meant to be.
It was time to give out the contest prizes, award the winning teams with trophies and with amazing prizes, too. Our golfers who placed were given golf packages: 1st Place to Saddlebrook Golf Club in Tampa, 2nd Place to Grand Bear, and 3rd Place to Bay Pointe. After everything was handed out, Austin Underwood came up to me and shared that he had played ALL 18 HOLES and that he played with the team that came in 3rd place. I had no idea he played them all, we had talked about him playing, but, even I didn’t know he played the entire course. So it was obvious that he needed a trophy. I shared that I would need to get him one made and we even made arrangements for this. A player on his team stepped up, he said, “I got you”. This complete stranger who won a trophy was happy, really happy, to give his to Austin. And Austin lit up with excitement. Think about that, how far kindness can go for both people.
As the day came to a close, my heart was so full… everyones hearts were full. The entire day was beautiful and so full of joy. Laughter, happy tears and kindness truly made this a golf tournament with heart. I was told that this was the most fun tournament some had played, the most laidback tournament, the most organized, the coolest and even some said they had never played in one like this in the most positive way. Please know this, I didn’t do all this alone. I had our story to share and arms opened. This tournament was embraced by so many. The huge part for me is that we have now planted seeds that will definitely grow the most beautiful flowers. EXTRA big thanks to all the love Pass Christian and beyond showed us. Extra big thanks to the ones who believed in me. EXTRA big hugs to all the people who came together to see this level of goodness come to life.