Carl Vuillaume spent his life having fun. The 16-year-old acted in school plays, participated in band, played sports, relished books and wrote on a regular basis. He lived by the catchphrase: Carpe diem.
In 2005, he drowned while vacationing with his family in Minnesota.
His parents, Robert and Charleen Vuillaume of Darien, keep his memory alive through The Gift of Carl Foundation.
The public charity provides Chicago area children who otherwise could not afford it the opportunity to experience theater, literature, music and the outdoors.
The money raised helps fund college scholarships for thespians and grants for theater programs, refurbished instruments and music lessons, literary festivals, Arbor Day celebrations and environmental education.
Charleen, a financial analyst, and Robert, a director of manufacturing, are joined on the foundation's board of directors by their children, Dan, 26, an actor, and Renee, 24, a Peace Corps volunteer.
Chicago Parent recently spoke to the Vuillaumes about their charity work.
How did you set aside your grief and launch this foundation?
Robert: I don't think you ever set aside your grief. The outpouring of support from the local community when Carl died was overwhelming. We created the foundation to give back and say thanks for all the help we received during that time.
Charleen: Every day is difficult. When you are busy, you channel your grief and see the positive that comes from the foundation. And you feel like Carl is here. Everything is in his memory, his honor and his name. It makes you want to continue.
What surprised you most about running a foundation?
Robert: How generous people can be. Deep down inside, most people are good and always willing to pitch in and do something.
How did it feel to be named the 2012 Darien Citizens of the Year?
Charleen: A lot of mixed emotions. We're doing it for Carl, for his memory. (The honor) was an added bonus.
Do you plan to expand the foundation?
Robert: We're happy with the standing programs. They keep us busy. We like the idea of being able to hold back money to help out at the spur of the moment with instruments, grants, band trips, outdoor education. Those are the feel-good things we do throughout the year.
What has the foundation done for you?
Robert: It allowed us to move forward, in a positive way, after Carl died. We knew we were doing good things. We knew we would get support. And it's been tremendous, all along, in getting through that tragedy.