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Local

Bowl-A-Thon fundraiser set March 11

Ben Smiles event to raise funds to provide toys for children with disabilities

Elizabeth Gerlach and her husband, Rob, launched Ben Smiles in April 2017, nearly a year after Ben (shown here) died in May 2016 at age 4.
Elizabeth Gerlach and her husband, Rob, launched Ben Smiles in April 2017, nearly a year after Ben (shown here) died in May 2016 at age 4.

ST. CHARLES – To Elizabeth Gerlach, the inaugural Ben’s Bowl-A-Thon fundraiser for the Ben Smiles Memorial Foundation passes a few surface tests.

“It seemed like a nice community thing. It seemed like something I could actually turn into a fun event that was family-based,” she said. “And Ben’s Bowl-a-Thon had kind of a nice ring to it.”

Gerlach is hoping the TriCities community agrees when March 11 comes around. That day, the St. Charles resident and her family will host an event for her late son, Ben, at St. Charles Bowl, 2520 W. Main St., St. Charles. Proceeds benefit Ben’s Toy Closet, which provides switch-adapted toys to children with disabilities, allowing them to learn and play.

Gerlach and her husband, Rob, launched Ben Smiles in April 2017, nearly a year after Ben died in May 2016 at age 4. Ben was a triplet with “kind of a host of medical challenges,” his mother said. He suffered from quadriplegic cerebral palsy and epilepsy and required the use of a feeding tube.

His days often were filled with therapy sessions, including those for physical and vision needs. The majority of those came with Easter Seals, with whom the family had a strong relationship “simply because we were there most of the time,” Gerlach said.

“Coming up with a foundation, I wanted to try to give back to the organizations that had supported us and then try to reach families that were like ours, that had kids like them,” Gerlach said. “Just because I was familiar with the challenges of caring for a child with [Ben’s] type of diagnoses and just the situation we were faced with. I felt like I could give back since I was familiar with it.”

Ben Smiles participated in a few community projects in 2017. To be sure, the foundation is a family affair. Rob, an employee of Sears Holdings and a member of the U.S. Army Reserves, helps his wife and the couple’s other children, Ava and Colin, kindergartners who’ll turn 6 in June.

Elizabeth Gerlach worked in marketing before the triplets were born, when she and Rob decided she would be a stay-at-home mom. The time Gerlach does not devote to raising her family is typically spent on foundation matters.

Ben’s Bowl-A-Thon is scheduled from noon to 3 p.m. March 11. Cost is $25 per person or $90 for a team of four and includes bowling, raffles, food, prizes and entertainment. To register, visit www.bensmiles.org.

Information is available on the website and by calling 312-636-2969. Email the foundation at info@BenSmiles.org.

“We’re hoping to just continue to gain awareness about Ben Smiles, let people know that we exist from a support and fundraising standpoint,” Gerlach said, “but also trying to get the word out that we are offering toys to kids at a motor deficit and with special needs. So, we’d love to reach as many kids as possible with toys and switches in addition to just gaining community support.”

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