"...but I can lift my head up and think of all the teens who will be laughing, learning and enjoying the teen center and know Austin is looking down on his family and is proud of us for living our lives loud like we know he wants us to."
-Austin's mom, Brianna
Family carves teen center for late son
Forging ahead with anvils of love helps the parents of Austin Wilkerson get through the days since their vivacious and precocious son died of an incredibly deadly type of brain aneurism Sept. 23, 2014.
He would have turned 17.
They call it their beloved son's "death day."
Austin was on the cusp of adulthood with big dreams and plans and was taken away from this world way too soon. This young man's family has since been on their knees, but then slowly straightened to find a path to honor Austin and keep his legacy alive for those in the Mt. Juliet community, and beyond.
"Even though my heart aches every day to where starting each morning without him is excruciating and the quiet of the evenings is a silence that is deafening; but I can lift my head up and think of all the teens who will be laughing, learning and enjoying the teen center and know Austin is looking down on his family and is proud of us for living our lives loud like we know he wants us to," said his mother Brianna.
Official unveiling of Austin's Legacy Teen Center plans
For more than a year, the family has worked toward conceiving and implementing Austin's Legacy Teen Center in his memory. The drive to build a teen center in Mt. Juliet came because Austin always tried to get together with friends, but couldn't find a particular place in Mt. Juliet.
"He loved to play basketball and would go to the community center, but there definitely was, and is, a need for a place for teens to gather," his step-mom Angela said.
This grieving, blended family gathered forces, put their heads together and even hired local architect Sam Anderson to put together a rendering of the center they hope will draw local youth. But while the cause is beyond worthy, they need help from the community where Austin lived. Angela said there's an inaugural official fundraiser planned early April.
"We are very excited to have our first official fundraiser event and really have the opportunity to properly introduce ourselves to our amazing community," she said.
They've organized a spaghetti dinner and silent auction at the Mt. Juliet Community Center from 5:30 to 8 p.m., on Saturday, April 2.
"There will be all kinds of great items to bid on at the silent auction, plus some of Austin's Legacy merchandise will be available for purchase. There will be videos to watch and the final unveiling of Sam's fabulous building design," said this enthusiastic mom.
She said Anderson (free of charge) has "magically been able to pull an idea from three different peoples' heads" and create a beautiful design that encompasses all they envisioned.
"We've talked to different parents and teens within the community to get a better feel of what is wanted and needed in a teen center," this mom said.
Austin suffered what's called a brain AVM (arteriovenous malformation). A brain AVM contains abnormal and, therefore, "weakened" blood vessels that direct blood away from normal brain tissue.
These abnormal and weak blood vessels dilate over time. Eventually they may burst from the high pressure of blood flow from the arteries, causing bleeding into the brain.
Tragically, the average age of an AVM rupture is 17 years old.
Brianna said from day one her son was "all boy," and loved to make people laugh. He has two brothers and two sisters and they think he "hung the moon."
"It's important for people come to the spaghetti dinner so that we get to share Austin's story with them," said Brianna. "We want people to see who he is and how full of life he was and why it is so important for us to live life loud like he did with all of his big dreams. The AVM may have taken him from us, but we will continue to fight this for him and spread awareness in the hopes that no one else has to endure this pain we have. "
She said building the teen center is going to be a living legacy for years to come that Austin would be proud.
"The longing for and missing ache are at times almost unbearable," Angela said. "I miss his smile, his stories, his arguments, his hugs, his rebellion, his voice, his laugh. Grief is complex and confusing, and it changes everything!
"There is more to the 'new normal' than just learning to live with a huge absence in your life and a massive hole in your heart. I wish I wasn't so paranoid and my stomach wouldn't drop when people say they simply have a headache."
Austin's father, Lee, is very much a part of building the foundation, even while he works hard in classes to become an RN.
"I try to take each day as it comes and move forward," he said. "I'm in school to be an RN right now and that's something I know Austin was excited about me doing. It's hard to juggle family time, work, school and building the foundation, but knowing that I am working toward being able to help people and make a difference for them is how I cope."
The center will have security locked doors, a Teen Advisory Board, volunteer opportunities and such things as cooking, computer, pre-collage prep, basketball and wally ball courts, as well as Ping-Pong and paintball games. A graphic is available with full amenities.
Tickets for the fundraiser are on sale online through their website. Seating is limited, but they want to get as many faces in front of them that night to really show people their vision so the community can get excited about what they are doing.
They are still accepting donations for the silent auction, and will be until that day. Businesses are encouraged to become involved. For donation letters or details on donating to the silent auction, contact Rachelle Young at (615) 693-1597.
While Austin's parents won't ever be able to watch Austin pull out of the driveway with his car packed full as he heads out on this journey of life, or help him when he rents his first apartment or buys his first home, they find comfort somehow with all this planning.
Editor's note: Please got to wilsonpost.com to see several previous stories about Austin Wilkerson.
Writer Laurie Everett can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.