Nonprofit aims to bring joy, support to Chattanooga-area children surviving the loss of a parent

Kiara Green, Chattanooga Times Free Press, Tenn.
·3 min read

Apr. 10—A "moment of joy" could be an afternoon spent at AT&T Field for the little boy who finds joy in watching baseball, or a new violin and private lessons for the young girl who finds joy in music. But after the loss of a parent, joy can be hard to find for many children, and the goal of one regional nonprofit is to support children who have suffered the loss of a parent and to provide them with experiences that ensure they find joy afterward.

Natalie Sorrells founded the The Joy Mission in 2020 to honor her sister, Meredith Lawler, who was killed by a drunk driver in Chattanooga in November of 2016. At the time of the accident, Lawler left behind a 22-month-old girl named Mia, who Sorrells said is also the inspiration behind the organization.

"I've struggled for so long trying to figure out the why why my sister, why Mia's mom and why did this happen," said Sorrells, an Atlanta-area resident. "Mia spends the summers with my family, and one day as I was dropping her off and during the drive home from Chattanooga to Atlanta, it just dawned on me that I can create something to honor my sister and forever serve kids like Mia."

Sorrells said the organization can be thought of in similar terms as the Make-A-Wish Foundation, but with an emphasis on serving children who have lost a parent in ways such as providing annual care packages or funding special activities.

The nonprofit's first "joy child" is a 13-year-old Chattanooga-area resident named Camryn Davis, whose mother passed away in February of this year. Davis has a passion for art and a natural gift of creativity, characteristics that have led The Joy Mission to plan her moment of joy as a virtual art auction to be held during the first week of May. The auction will feature Davis' work, and all proceeds will be returned to her, according to the organization.

"All the [art] pieces will be different that will be in the auction, and they all will have a different meaning to them," Davis said. "Five of them will be ones that are older, and there will also be five new paintings that will be shown."

Davis said she is most looking forward to people being able to see her art as well as the beauty in it because "art is so much more than a picture," she said.

An estimated 1 in 14 children will experience the death of a parent or sibling by age 18, according to the Childhood Bereavement Estimation Model, a statistical tool developed by the Judi's House/JAG Institute based on results for 2020. For Tennessee alone, the estimation is 1 in 11 children, with Tennessee ranking as the seventh highest state in the nation for children experiencing the death of a parent or sibling.

The staggering statistics are a part of the reason why The Joy Mission is dedicated to serving children in the greater Atlanta, Nashville and Chattanooga areas, with a goal of supporting a total of 14 children by the end of 2021. In addition to the joy moments, the organization partners with area counselors to better assist children in dealing with grief and is also committed to assisting each child until they turn 18.

"It's hard to define what each moment of joy looks like because each child that comes to us will be unique and special as to what brings them joy," Sorrells said. "I think the key is really finding that opportunity of joy and bringing that out by celebrating and wrapping our arms around these kids to create healing, peace, hope and happiness in its most simplest terms."

For those looking to participate in the art auction, details will be posted to the organization's social media pages in the following weeks.

The Joy Mission can be supported through volunteer service, monthly membership donations or one-time donations through its website www.thejoymission.com.

Email Kiara Green at kgreen@timesfreepress.com.