Tuesday, October 17, 2000

Gold medal for helping Erin's mom

        A roll of stamps arrived with a note: “I'm sure Erin's mom will want to write a zillion thank-yous. Hope this helps.”

        Well, not quite a zillion. But a lot.

        Laurie Phenix has written 230 notes so far, letting people know how much it meant to watch her daughter, Erin, swim at the Olympics in Sydney. Worry-free.

        “As a single parent who has lived on a tight budget my entire adult life,” Laurie writes, “I can honestly say that I felt a lifting of the financial burden for the first time in my mothering years. I went to the Olympics and had a blast without a care in the world.”

        That was the plan.

Snowball effect
               It started with a few friends determined to send Laurie off to Australia. She would have gone anyway, but they knew she'd be paying for it for years. A speech and language pathologist for Cincinnati Public Schools, Laurie also works part time at a hospital birthing center.

        “Her friends watched her raise that baby by herself,” says long-time friend Tess Neggerman of College Hill. “This is a way for all of us to be with Laurie and Erin in Sydney. Send along our good thoughts and prayers.”

        It snowballed. Phone trees. Word of mouth. An article in The Enquirer. Internet browsers sent support from all over the country.

        Not everybody who sent money will get a thank-you note. Some people dropped off cash at the village office in Greenhills, where Laurie lives. Others mailed anonymous contributions to Erin's school. “My daughter and I are both Ursuline graduates,” one contributor wrote, “and although we don't know Laurie Phenix, we want to say "atta girl!'”

        Friends. Neighbors. People from church. “But I also heard from a bunch of people I didn't know,” Laurie says.

        Well, Laurie, we know you. We have seen moms — and sometimes dads — at soccer games and swim meets and school plays. Cheering their children. Alone. And you gave us the chance to cheer the ordinary but breathtakingly important job of rearing a good kid.

        Laurie hands me a folder, fat with, as she puts it, “the positive side of humanity.”

        Lots of yellow Post-It notes that came attached to $5 and $10 and $20 bills.

        “God bless.”

        “Have a safe trip.”

        On elegant Crane's stationery: “From one single mother to another. Hope this helps.”

        It did.

        On note paper: “You go, girls,” wrote a woman who says her check was in honor of Erin fulfilling her dreams and “our children just beginning to have theirs.”

        And greeting cards: “Hope you won't have to max out your credit cards.”

        Laurie's credit is safe. In fact, people overshot the mark.

        Some of the money Laurie came home with will be applied to Erin's tuition at the University of Texas in Austin. She also gave a donation to an agency that offers services to single mothers.

        “This was a life-changing thing, hearing from all these people.” Besides seeing Sydney harbor, in addition to a good seat for her daughter's once-in-a-lifetime swim, Laurie Phenix was given the privilege of helping somebody else.

        One note with a donation said, “So many people have helped me in my lifetime, and I'm just passing it on and request that you do the same.”

        Message received.

        E-mail lpulfer@enquirer.com


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