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Foundation tries to find good out of tragedy

Dawn Brancheau

Dawn Brancheau

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The third annual Dawn Brancheau Foundation Dream Big Walk is scheduled for Sunday, Sept. 15, 2013 at the Lake County Fair Grounds. Proceeds benefit community service projects at The Boys and Girls Club of Cedar Lake, Holy Name Vacation Bible School, Mercy Home for Boys and Girls, LYDIA, Matanya’s Hope, Perry Ferrini Dog Park, South Suburban Humane Society, the Lake County Fairgrounds and The Dream Big Scholarship at Andrean High School. Visitwww.DawnsFoundation.org for more information on the foundation or visit www.DreamBigWalk2013.kintera.org to register for the upcoming walk.

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Updated: August 30, 2013 6:26AM



Working with children and adults with special needs. Encouraging teens to avoid drinking and driving. Volunteering to work with animals.

The volunteer work of the two recipients of the Dawn Brancheau Foundation Dream Big Scholarship runs the gamut. The 2013 graduates of Andrean High School — Hannah Marie Kulesa and Jessica Zarik — spend several hours each week working with Young Adults Really Care, the Share Foundation, Students Against Drunk Driving and other organizations.

The scholarship — $1,500 apiece — was established in memory of the foundation’s namesake. Brancheau, a 1987 Andrean graduate and Cedar Lake native, was working as a whale trainer at SeaWorld, where she was killed by an orca on Feb. 24, 2010. Brancheau’s family established the foundation to continue her commitment to helping others.

Dawn’s sister Diane Gross commended Kulesa and Zarik for being “truly inspirational women and (they) will make a difference in this world.”

“We wanted to find that special person who doesn’t do community service as a requirement, but it comes from the heart,” Gross said.

Most of the foundation’s funds are generated by an April 5K Run at SeaWorld in Orlando, Fla., and a fall 5K run/walk at the Lake County Fairgrounds set for Sept. 15. Most of the proceeds benefit the scholarship and community service projects at the Boys and Girls Club of Cedar Lake, Holy Name Vacation Bible School, Mercy Home for Boys and Girls, LYDIA, and other groups.

“We wanted to take a tragedy and find some good to do with it,” Gross said.

Andrean does require students to complete 16 hours of community service each year, but for Kulesa and Zarik service is a privilege.

For Zarik, the drive to help others started in Girl Scouts, which she started at age four.

“It doesn’t feel like work because I have so much fun doing it,” Zarik, of Crown Point, said.

Zarik volunteers at Exceptional Equestrians, which provides horseback therapy for kids with special needs; the Share Foundation, which runs weekend camps for adults with special needs; Special Olympics; YARC; and her youth group at St. Mary’s Church in Crown Point.

Zarik plans to major in sustainable business this fall at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Mich.

“It’s a double major in business and enviromental studies, with a minor in Spanish,” Zarik said. “I’m not entirely sure where I’ll end up, but ultimately I’d like to work on sustainability projects in Central America. I’ve been on four trips to Guatemala with my youth group and the environmental side came from the Girl Scouts.”

Kulesa is active with Students Against Drunk Driving, YARC, the Hobart Humane Society, her school and church.



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