P.O. Box 390666 Deltona, FL 32739

Charity Provides Headstones for Children

December 12, 2011 By Stephen Hudak, Orlando Sentinel

Twice a week for two years, Lorie Pearson knelt at Ponceannah Cemetery, a small roadside graveyard west of Paisley in Lake County, to offer a prayer for a grandchild who lay in an unmarked plot there.

The grave of 7-month-old Jasmine Perkins, who simply did not wake up May 2, 2009, was dotted with porcelain angels, plastic roses and tiny snow globes, which Pearson brought to distinguish the spot as the little girl’s.

Then in May 2011, when Pearson thought her pain couldn’t get any worse, her daughter Danielle Pearson, Jasmine’s mother, was killed in a car accident. As she prepared to bury Danielle, Pearson received a gift from a new charity created by other grieving parents: an offer to buy a granite headstone for her grandchild.

“I dropped to my knees and cried when I saw it,” Pearson said of the stone carved with Jasmine’s name and a cuddly cartoon bear. “I feel like she’s more at rest now.”

The charity also bought a headstone for Danielle, 22.

The headstones were provided by the Bradley Summersill Foundation, a nonprofit organization in Apopka that gives cemetery monuments to families that have lost a child and cannot afford a permanent marker. The foundation, which hopes to provide monuments for a dozen children in Central Florida next year, seeks referrals from funeral homes.

Simple monuments cost $400 to $1,000, an expense many poor families can’t afford.

The foundation, created by Peggy and Brian “Bubba” Summersill, aims to honor the memory of their son, Bradley Summersill, and his friend Brian Walker, who both died New Year’s morning 2010 in a crash with a drunken driver on Jones Road near Zellwood.

Brian Summersill, a truck driver, had no money or insurance to pay for a marker for his son, who was a senior at West Orange High School and was better known as “L.B.” or “Little Bubba.” Peggy Summersill, now a medical assistant in Tavares, was unemployed.

“I couldn’t bear the thought of going to the cemetery and seeing nothing marking his place but a little-bitty piece of metal with his name on it,” she said. “It would feel like the world thought my child was insignificant.”

Friends rallied with fundraisers to help the Summersills cover all burial expenses.

“After we purchased his headstone, we didn’t know what to do with the money that was left over,” Peggy Summersill said. “We had other bills, of course, but we didn’t want to keep it. We didn’t think that was right. There was a specific reason all these people had raised money to help us … and we knew what Brad would have done.”

Their son inspired them.

“He was the type of person who would help anybody any way he could,” she said. “If somebody needed something, he was always the first one to step up. His favorite saying was, ‘I got this.’ Our way of trying to honor him and his memory is to make sure we help other people.”

Emily Yasbeck, a designer with Southern Monument Studio in Leesburg, which provided the foundation with discounted granite markers, said the charity has commissioned four headstones this year, including one for an Ocoee teen.

“They have taken something that was truly terrible and turned it into something good for others,” she said.

The foundation, which earned about $6,000 through fundraising events last year, gained tax-exempt status in May, allowing it to buy monuments. Its first beneficiary was Pearson, who suggested a carving of butterflies for her daughter Danielle, who was eight months pregnant. The monument also paid tribute to the unborn baby, named Kayden Lynn Marie Pearson, who did not survive the crash.

She was placed in her mother’s arms, and they were buried together.

Heartbroken and penniless, Pearson learned from Beyers Funeral Home in Umatilla that the foundation wanted to help. Pearson did not know the Summersills. They had read of her tragedy at OrlandoSentinel.com.

They met in person for the first time Friday at the cemetery.

“I thank the good Lord for you,” Pearson told the Summersills, her 4-year-old grandson, Jordan, clinging shyly to her leg.

“Don’t thank us,” said Brian Summersill, struggling to fight off tears. “That’s a gift from Brad and everybody who loved him.”