Lifestyle

Crystal Lake South Class of 1999 will honor AJ Freund's memory at reunion

CL South Class of 1999 will honor AJ Freund’s memory on Sept. 21

In April, Crystal Lake South Class of 1999 alum Mika Stambaugh began planning for a night of nostalgia, the meeting of old friends and a welcomed walk down memory lane to celebrate their 20-year class reunion.

On April 18, the news of the disappearance of 5-year-old Crystal Lake resident Andrew “AJ” Freund broke. In the wake of tragedy, in the city she called home, Stambaugh was to plan a party to take place at the Dole Mansion, less than a mile from the site of Freund’s disappearance and slaying.

“When I think of my childhood and growing up in Crystal Lake, I’m filled with so many wonderful memories, so much laughter, so many friends, so much love. To think that AJ won’t be able to base feelings and memories of this kind around a hometown that could have been just as rewarding for him breaks my heart,” Stambaugh said. “I’m not willing to let this tragedy define the city that was so good to me, but I’m also not willing to turn my back on something that may have been able to be prevented.”

Stambaugh partnered with ChildServ, a Chicago-based nonprofit that has acted as a trusted and long-standing community resource for children, families and young adults in northern Illinois. The organization provides early childhood learning, foster care, housing and counseling services to families, affecting children and teens in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs.

She called on the Class of 1999 to make donations via the Eventbrite site from which they buy their reunion tickets or on-site at the reunion. More than 100 former Gators have bought tickets to the Sept. 21 reunion at the Dole Mansion. Reunion attendees will enjoy dinner from Breaking Bread Catering & Deli and drinks at the mansion while they catch up.

Donations will go to ChildServ’s Early Childhood Program for children ages 3 to 5 to ensure they reach development milestones so they can prepare for kindergarten.

“It is imperative that kids starting school aren’t just ready to learn, they also have the tools necessary to be successful,” said Dan Kotowski, ChildServ president and CEO. “It is incredibly challenging for a child entering kindergarten to start the school year behind their classmates. The efforts we put forth ensure that parents are their child’s first teacher and that their kids are taking the steps necessary to achieve academic, emotional and social goals. Support for this program will give kids living in poverty the same opportunities as other kids who grew up with more resources.”

Stambaugh intends to donate additional funds in honor of her close friend who died unexpectedly Sept. 8, Class of 1995 alum Michael Hansen.

“It will be a night filled with memories,” Stambaugh said. “We’ll remember all of the great times we had together. We’ll remember those we call friends, those we’ve lost and those we’ll never forget. We’ll remember the city and the school we called home, and how they paved the way for us to become the people we are today. We’ll remember that we owe it to our town and to everyone who calls it home to take action to keep those memories positive and to keep them coming.”

Stambaugh said her fundraising goal is $1,000 for the Early Childhood Program.

“What’s great about ChildServ’s early childhood program is that it keeps families together by helping children to reach their full potential. This strengthens families and prevents children from entering the child welfare system,” Kotowski said. “This is quite a legacy for the Class of ’99 in that they’re protecting families and giving children living in poverty the chance to be successful in life.”

Donations to ChildServ can be made on the Crystal Lake South Class of 1999 Reunion Eventbrite site at www.eventbrite.com/e/crystal-lake-south-high-school-class-of-1999-reunion-tickets-61846828529.

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