LODI, Ohio -- A special group in Northeast Ohio is helping parents who have gone through the unthinkable. The group, Sophia’s Smile, provides headstones for families who have lost a child. It’s all thanks to a grieving mother who is now coming to the rescue of others. However, Sophia’s Smile can only succeed with the help from donations.
Beautiful memories is what keeps the Shaum family so strong. Their son and brother, Colby Hildreth, was your typical 14-year-old. He loved camo, football, working on trucks with his dad, and he was an incredible brother.
“He was kind and he always liked to go on bike rides and he liked to go outside and play basketball with me,” Colby’s little sister, Jillian Shaum, said. “He was just helpful, especially when I was going through bullying.”
Colby’s older sister, Raygen Hunter, agreed. “He loved people and his friends and family and he was a big kid with a big kind and caring heart.”
One day in 2017, Colby started getting headaches. Just days later he was diagnosed with a rare form of Leukemia. Just 24 hours after his diagnosis, he was gone, and the family started living a nightmare.
“When your child dies that’s all you want to think about,” Colby’s mother, Tara Shaum, said. “Unfortunately you have to think the financial, and I don’t want to use the word burden, but it’s a huge burden, and you can’t afford it all without help.”
That’s when Tara met Alicia Hornbeck, or as many know her, Sophia’s mother. In 2012, Alicia’s two year old daughter, Sophia, was tragically killed in an accident.
“She was beautiful with the most gorgeous red hair and she lit up a room with her spirit,” Alicia said about her daughter. “She was her brothers’ world and they were her everything. She is beyond missed and loved so very much.”
After Sophia’s death Alicia’s world was thrown upside down but a few years later she created Sophia’s Smile, a group that provides headstones for families who lost their children.
“You lost your child, you have to pay for a funeral, you have to take off time from work, sometimes your kids have to go to counseling,” Alicia said about the financial burdens that come from losing a child.
For the past five years Sophia’s Smile has been providing headstones for families across Ohio and even the country. The monument place will send the family’s invoice to Sophia’s Smile and then Sophia’s Smile sends the check directly to place that makes the headstone. Whatever the families want, they can have. From a specific stone or decoration to the child’s photo.
“The money shouldn’t have to matter to be able to go visit your loved one,” Alicia said. “This is it, this is the last thing. You’re not buying wedding dresses, you’re not buying clothes, cars, going on vacations…this is it.”
Tara Shaum agreed. “With Colby, I can’t buy him his dream truck or help him move to West Virginia like he wanted to. I can’t buy him his cowboy boots anymore.” Tara says the stone is something they can all sit around and visit. “It’s our last gift to our child.”
Sophia’s Smile even helped a family who lost their little girl 46 years ago, 12-year-old Eileen Sue Boreman.
“She always brought a different light to the family,” Eileen’s second cousin, Evan Boreman, said.
In 1970, Eileen’s family couldn’t provide her with a headstone when she passed away. But last year, Evan reached out to Alicia and made it happen.
“It makes me so happy to know her name,” Alicia said. “Eileen is here, she is not forgotten.”
So where does the money come from for all of these headstones? Well, Sophia’s Smile is a non-profit organization, so all the money is raised from donations and an annual run and walk. Alicia Hornbeck said her sons and she are runners and she knew she wanted to do something that would keep Sophia’s memory alive, so she created the annual event. For the past five years families who have gone through the unthinkable have come together for the annual 5k run and 1 mile walk.
“Unfortunately so many people have similar situations,” Colby’s sister, Raygen Hunter, said. “It’s not a group that you want to belong to but we’re all there for each other and support one another.”
All of the families say they will stay strong thanks to your donations, the support from one another and thanks to Sophia’s beautiful smile looking down on them.
“It’s her little smiles helping people,” Alicia said. “For every headstone we do, it's just a smile from Sophia."
If you want to help Sophia’s Smile you can take part in this year’s event. The 5k race and 1 mile walk will be held on Saturday, June 8 at Buckeye Woods Park in Medina. It’s $25 to pre-register or $30 the day of the race. If you pre-register you will get a Sophia’s Smile T-Shirt. If you can’t make the event but would still like to donate to the group, you can reach out to them on their Facebook page.