HAVlife™ opens Johnson County Chapter
HAVlife opens Johnson County chapter in Iowa City by Andy Davis
HAVlife™, a fundraising organization that connects children in difficult situations with the programs and activities they care about, has started a chapter in Iowa City.
Mike Vondran, a Quad Cities resident and a founder of the organization, said HAVlife™ officially came together in 2007, but was born out of a tragedy three years earlier.
Vondran said the non-profit bears the initials of his late son, Hunter Aaron Vondran, who at 13 years old died in an accident at a Quad Cities water park in August 2004.
"He was a great kid and had a great, magnetic personality, and seemed to love life to the fullest," Vondran said. "He participated in a lot of things that a lot of kids get to do, and what I thought every kid got to do, like athletics and music. He was a percussionist and he loved the arts, and he loved life in general."
During Hunter's hospital stay at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, support came pouring in from "complete strangers," Vondran said. The family received many cards and letters with well-wishes for Hunter, Vondran said, some including donations intended to cover the hospital bill. In all, Vondran said he and his family received $16,000 in donations, but with the medical bills covered by insurance, Vondran was left wondering what to do with the money.
"I went home and I sat down with my oldest son, Baron, who at the time was 15, and he said, 'Why don't you just give it back?' I said I had no idea who to give it back to," Vondran said. "We kind of hatched a plan at the kitchen table to take those dollars and try to find a way to use them that's beneficial to some young people that maybe didn't have the same opportunities that my kids did."
The group now has its headquarters in the Quad Cities, serving both sides of the river; a chapter in Dubuque serving Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin; and since the end of 2015 the Iowa City-based Johnson County HAVlife™ chapter.
"What we provide is participation scholarships that give these kids an opportunity to attend a sports camp or a music camp or help them out with music lessons or participation fees for whatever they want to do," Vondran said. "We've got great partnerships that we've created with all these organizations as well as lots of coaches and counselors who have their eye on the ball and see which might be struggling and could really use the support.
"They look for a young person who might be struggling but has a firm foundation and something that can be built upon if they can just get a little extra boost."
Zach Kenyon, a personal banker at MidWestOne Bank and an area baseball coach, serves as chairman of the 11-member Iowa City chapter. Kenyon said there had been longtime conversations among concerned community members about how to help area children that have been struggling at home.
"No child is ever going to raise their hand and say, 'I'm that person that needs help,' " Kenyon said. "We looked into HAVlife™ and what their mission was, and after reviewing the mission and seeing what they they were doing in the Davenport area it just really made sense for us to bring that here."
HAVlife™ partners with local school districts and youth service programs and uses 100 percent of the funds it raises to support at-risk young people between 10 and 15 years old, Kenyon said. He added that the age range is an important developmental time. Last year HAVlife™ helped support some 3,000 children across eastern Iowa and western Illinois, Vondran said.
"At our first event we had in the Quad Cities, we had 175 guests and raised $10,000, and I was ecstatic," Vondran said. "We're going to have our eighth event here in the Quad Cities in two weeks, and last year we had over 2,000 guests and raised over $120,000 in one night. It's really caught on."
Kenyon said the Johnson County chapter is gearing up for its first fundraising event, the Martini ShakeOff!™, scheduled for June. Vondran said the event has been trademarked by the organization and features martini samples shaken by local mixologists, accompanied by heavy hors d'oeuvres.
"I think this could be something that expands and really makes a difference in this community. Hopefully the event later this year will drive more interest and really help people understand what we're doing and why we're doing this. We really want it to continue to grow from there," Kenyon said.