Kayla Melendez, 7, left a trail of inspiration before her death Jan. 18

jmarks@lakewyliepilot.comJanuary 22, 2014 

— Following her death Jan. 18, Kayla Melendez continues to draw support from her community. And to offer it.

Melendez, 7, was diagnosed in the fall with a brain tumor. Friends and strangers began raising money. Children wore T-shirts supporting her. And they aren’t stopping.

“Kayla was a precious student,” said Georgia Westmoreland, principal at Crowders Creek Elementary School, where hundreds wore “Cure for Kayla” shirts on their first day back last week following Kayla’s death.

Neighbors also planned a Sunday candlelight vigil for Kayla in River Oaks, where the Melendez family lives. Organizers wanted to show the family their support.

“We don’t want to let her feel let down by her community,” neighbor Lauren Myers said.

On Thursday, registration began for the Run for Kayla 5K on March 23. Local runner Julie Odoms worked with new Fort Mill business Cycle Cross Fitness to put the event together. The race will begin and end at Ebenezer Park in Rock Hill, running Lake Wylie Drive. Money will go to the Melendez family and pediatric cancer research.

“Kayla’s life, although few in years, has been incredibly impactful,” said Leonard Scriven, co-owner of Cycle Cross Fitness. “The strength she showed has not only inspired others to live and love more fully, but has galvanized the community and brought out the best in those influenced by her life.”

Christine Goodell and Stephanie Haynes started fundraising for the family after learning of Kayla’s condition. Both said the task wasn’t difficult.

Companies like Eason Roofing, Stepping Stone Therapy and R.P. Boggs & Co. pitched in. So did local groups like Cub Scouts Pack 333, Home Town Heroes, Lake Wylie Children’s Charity and Lake Wylie Rotary Club. Then there were the Hayneses, Goodells, Odoms, Kellys, Snyders and many more families.

“I must have made 50 calls on her behalf, and I didn’t get a single person who said, ‘I can’t do it this year,’” Goodell said.

Lake Wylie and Clover businesses like Sew What Mommy, Lake Wylie Eye, The Pizza Man and Elite Taekwondo Academy all held collections or donation events. Some businesses offered services, like Wee Spa treating Kayla to a manicure and pedicure party in December.

Family members last week said they were thankful for the outpouring. While those rallying support say they can’t imagine what the family is facing, they believe all the interest in helping Kayla came from people seeing parts of themselves or their families in the Melendezes.

“Kayla’s passing, while tragic, serves as a reminder to hug the ones you love a little tighter and live every day to the fullest,” Haynes said.

It also served, Goodell said, to show how positive a community can be even given the most negative of situations.

“It kind of restored my faith in humanity,” Goodell said.

An account for the family is set up at Wells Fargo in Lake Wylie. Make a check to or mention “Cure for Kayla” or “Kayla Melendez” and have the ZIP code 29710.

To register for the 5K, visit bit.ly/RunforKayla5k.

John Marks •  803-831-8166

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