Only eight years old, Caitlin Shorey has a big voice, and people are listening. While she often uses it to belt out Broadway show tunes, lately this powerhouse of a third-grader has been speaking up for one of her favorite charities, Inheritance of Hope (IoH). IoH serves young families facing the loss of a parent due to terminal illness, and Caitlin’s family benefitted from an IoH Orlando Legacy Retreat® in March 2018.
“It was amazing to be able to express my feelings in a way that I didn’t have to hide anything, and I met new friends from all over,” Caitlin enthusiastically explains. “For example, sometimes I feel scared, sad, or anxious about what might happen to my mom, but everyone in that group understood what I feel. On an IoH retreat, everyone knows because they have all experienced it.”
|The Shorey Family on their IoH Legacy RetreatⓇ|
Remarkably articulate for an elementary schooler, Caitlin also recognizes that the tools she gained on the retreat have allowed her to open up in any setting. “I used to be afraid to talk about stuff with my friends at school… ‘Oh, it’s nothing,’ I’d say, if something was bothering me. But now I’m not scared to say, ‘Yeah, this happened and I’m trying to get over it.’ Before, I never felt like I could get these emotions out of my mind, but now that I’m not so afraid to talk, I know I can get them out.”
Besides practicing new skills for how to navigate terminal illness as a family, the Shorey family made lifelong friends and lifelong memories. Caitlin's older brothers, Jaret and Adam, enjoyed the chance to be kids again and have fun, without the burden of cancer and its added responsibilities that often saddle older children in a household. All agree that being together was invaluable. “I think the best part,” an animated Caitlin remembers, “was going to the parks and being funny together, because that is what our family does! Like one day, we were walking out and Adam just kept dancing and dancing and dancing.”
Thanks in part to their Legacy Retreat® and a renewed commitment to live intentionally, those moments are what the Shoreys are focusing on now. Mom Nicole, whom Caitlin unhesitatingly labels as the funniest in the family of five, was originally diagnosed with stage three breast cancer in 2015 when Jarret, Adam, and Caitlin were fourteen, twelve, and four years old. Two years later, the cancer had come back and spread--meaning it was metastatic.
|Jaret, Caitlin, Jason, Nicole, and Adam: enjoying all the time together they can|
While she doesn’t know what the future holds, this mom of three who also works at a private school for autistic students, does know how she wants to spend her time - making as many memories as possible with her children and husband, Jason. “We travel a lot now, and it is all about moments,” Nicole emphasizes, “instead of stuff. We spend time together and go back to places we know we love, but we also try new experiences together.” Caitlin and her brothers had no arguments about forgoing Christmas gifts for a trip to Disney World last year, and over the summer, the Shoreys camped (almost off the grid!) for a week in Maine.
Family bonding goes beyond rollercoasters and campfires--the Shoreys cherish being together back home in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, just as much as they do on vacation. “I’m super close to my brothers. I have to be,” Caitlin concedes with a laugh, “they are bigger and I’m not the strongest in my family!” Joking aside, Jaret and Adam win the title of most supportive brothers. Competitive in the pageant scene, Caitlin recently won the title of Ambassador for International United Miss, and her brothers have been there every step of the way. Neither has missed a pageant nor a chance to see her shine, and at her first competition, Jaret even escorted Caitlin and two other contestants who did not have escorts.
Before pageants, the family was busy with sports events for the boys, until Caitlin forged her own path, wanting to do nothing but sing, dance, meet people, and connect with an audience. Jason, an outpatient physical therapy assistant and former basketball coach, recalls, “She wanted to sing onstage, so she took three lessons and the next thing we knew, she was singing in front of a thousand people. She has a real stage presence.” This proud dad’s assessment has been proven correct time and time again.
Nevertheless, her parents were uncertain if pageants were the right venue and outlet for Caitlin. After some research, Nicole and Jason realized the advantages of the natural pageant circuit with its rules of no make-up or heels under age twelve and a strong emphasis on cultivating interpersonal skills. Nicole never expected to be a pageant mom, but then again, she didn’t expect to have metastatic breast cancer either. Now, those two circumstances have intersected in a way that is getting lots of attention as Caitlin’s new title will lead to opportunities for the family to publicize a cause that is important to them, Inheritance of Hope.
|Caitlin doing what she loves most|
Over the next year, International United Miss will help Caitlin, serving as ambassador, raise money for a charity of her choice. According to Nicole, that choice was easy. “IoH is one of those experiences that no matter how many good things you have to say about it, it doesn’t compare to actually experiencing it yourself. We bring it up in conversation once or twice a week.”
Caitlin is still brainstorming how she will use her high-profile platform, but she does know that it most certainly will involve the Caitlin Sings project, which she started as a surprise for her mom’s 40th birthday. While Nicole attended the Living Beyond Breast Cancer conference last spring with friends she made though IoH, Caitlin, with a little help from Jason, made a Facebook page that sheds light on what she thinks is important--sending more families like hers on an IoH Legacy RetreatⓇ.
|Caitlin shines offstage as well!|
Through the Caitlin Sings Project, she encourages others to post themselves singing, and also asks followers to share, increase awareness, and donate if possible. No one can resist a spunky eight-year-old on a mission, and participants have included another young IoH retreat-goer and friend; singer-songwriter Todd McCall; and the notorius Soup Nazi of Seinfeld fame.
Caitlin has posted her own rendition of “Popular,” from the musical Wicked (Nicole’s favorite), and is working on a song from Newsies to add. Broadway hits are what she most loves to sing, and when asked if she sees herself there one day, she immediately exclaims, “Absolutely! It’s not even like an ‘I think I will thing,’ but it’s ‘I know I will!’” Her dream roles include Glenda from Wicked, Matilda from Matilda the Musical, and Ursula from The Little Mermaid--all roles with personality almost as big as hers. For such ambitious goals, Caitlin describes why she wants to be onstage quite simply. “Something about it just makes me really happy. I like making people happy, and making someone’s day go from not great to feeling amazing.”
To those who aren’t cut out for the stage and can’t carry a tune, Caitlin requests, “Please share, share, share.” She knows the power of several voices joining as one, and her biggest goal is for more families to experience a Legacy Retreat®. Jason explains why: “We saw how important it is for families to have this time and these memories, and unfortunately, for many families, this was their last trip together. It’s just really important that families in situations similar to ours get to have that weekend together.”
Like Caitlin singing and the Shorey family advocating and fundraising on behalf of IoH, we can all make “someone’s day go from not great to feeling amazing.”
|Watch for this face in showbiz!|
Click here to help Caitlin reach her goal of raising $5,000 to send another family on an IoH all-expenses paid Legacy RetreatⓇ, and visit the Caitlin Sings page to raise awareness, share, and post your own video!
For more information about Inheritance of Hope, or to apply for a life-changing Legacy Retreat®, visit www.InheritanceOfHope.org
Angie Howell is constantly inspired by the people she meets in the Inheritance of Hope family. Her connection to IoH goes back to Davidson College, where she met Kristen Grady Milligan the first week of their freshman year. Kristen eventually started Inheritance of Hope with her husband Deric, and Angie heard about their work at a college reunion. In 2010, the two former hallmates got back in touch, and Angie became involved in IoH shortly afterwards. She has has served as a Legacy Retreat volunteer, Coordinator, and now, as Communications Manager, Angie helps tell the stories of IoH. Read more Inheritance of Hope blogposts >>