'For Michael' fundraising event already off and running

In May of 2016, Darien lost a member of the community entirely too soon. Michael Taylor, a former tennis star at Darien High School before going on to Villanova, died unexpectedly after struggling with addiction. Family and friends are determined to take tragedy and turn it into positive, and have been organized with an event to honor Michael’s life and spirit. Those family and friends are working with Shatterproof, a national nonprofit organization that is working to combat addiction and the harm it does to families.

“We used to take trips to Block Island, but this past summer we stayed here and thought of things we could do,” said William Herling, of how he and others came up with the idea. “It was important that it was fun, and that it was a spectacle,” said Herling, pointing to the importance of having an event that Michael would have loved. What was created will prove to be a fun spectacle indeed.

The “For Michael” fundraiser is still over a month away, and Herling and other organizers have partnered with Shatterproof for the cause. Shatterproof is a national nonprofit group that is dedicated to fighting addiction. Other sponsors included Silver Hill Hospital, Stamford Health, and The Lighthouse, an organization dedicated to sober living. Rings’ End and Shoreline Painting and Drywall also are sponsors and are providing materials for the teams registered.

On May 20 at 1pm, about twenty teams will take to the shores of Weed Beach with home made boats and race for the cause. “Teams have two people in the boat at a time, head out from the beach, come back, and then two others take the boat out and back in a relay race,” Herling said, describing the event. Twenty teams have already registered boats, including friends of Taylor, former Olympian sailors, and even a crew from Rings’ End, who is supplying the materials for boat building.

“Some teams are making legitimate boats, others are buying $100 in duct tape and $100 in floatation and seeing what happens,” laughed Herling, pointing again to the light hearted nature of the competition.

To date, $52,220 has already been raised.

Along with the boat race, there will be a silent auction with items donated from local businesses and community members. There will also be a dunk tank, whose participants are rumored to include DHS history teacher Anthony Sweeney. There will be food trucks as well, and live music from Tramps Like Us, who is considered one of the premier Bruce Springsteen tribute bands working today. The band has been together since 1990 and played over 200 concerts in some of the nation’s most famous venues.

According to Herling, there is a hope that a team of students from Darien High School will enter a boat into the competition as well. “I’ve been talking to Jeromy Nelson at DHS, and we’re hoping we can get something together,” said Herling. Nelson is a teacher in the science and technology department at DHS, and won Connecticut Technology Education and Engineering Teacher of the Year in 2016, one of the highest honors given to teachers.

Addiction is still one of the leading health crises affecting the area and the nation at large, particularly when it comes to opioids. The “For Michael” Fundraiser is a completely substance free event, and aims to have a good time while taking on the challenge of addressing this crisis.  “If we can help even two or three people start a conversation about getting help, that’s making an impact,” said Annmarie Squatrito-Taylor, another organizer of the event and Michael's mother. While the event is certainly shaping up to be the fun spectacle that Michael Taylor would have loved, the emphasis on raising money and the conversation about addiction to another level is just as important. Herling said the town has been incredibly helpful and accommodating in helping to get the event off the ground, pointing to Parks and Recreation Department and First Selectman Jayme Stevenson as examples of local leaders doing all they could to make For Michael happen.

More about the fundraiser can be seen at www.shatterproof.org/for-michael.  Tickets can be purchased by clicking the “register” link at the bottom of the page, and contact information is available for those interesting in volunteering or donating items for auction.