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Legacy of Kindness Fund

Marissa Norwood and her mother
Marissa Norwood and her mother, Rosalyn Lee-Norwood

On the outside, Marissa Norwood was like any other 12-year-old girl: She loved vanilla milkshakes, her dogs and her family. She was an ace at card games, and she never missed the opportunity to give a good hug.

Unlike most seventh graders, though, Marissa was also battling a life-threatening brain tumor. During treatment, she spent countless days at the hospital undergoing chemotherapy and radiation, and she endured three brain operations.

But even as she weakened, Marissa's top priority was to make a difference in her community. She was passionate about helping victims of domestic violence and local animal shelters. She was especially fond of the Doggie Brigade at Akron Children's Hospital, and she spearheaded a fundraiser to help the group continue its visits to children in the hematology/oncology department.

"In her small way, Marissa wanted to contribute basic items of daily life to help provide comfort to displaced families," said her mother, Rosalyn Lee-Norwood. "She believed in doing random acts of kindness for those less fortunate. (So) when she was diagnosed with malignant brain cancer, Marissa knew she wanted her legacy to be one of kindness."

As a result, when the Make-A-Wish Foundation offered Marissa a $5,000 shopping spree to buy anything she wanted, she selflessly used it to purchase items for her favorite charities: toiletries for a battered women's shelter, supplies for the local animal shelter, and gifts for other terminally ill children. 

"Perhaps sensing her own mortality … Marissa began thinking about her legacy. She wanted to make a difference in her Akron, Ohio, community," wrote Marissa's aunt, Melanie Burney, in a November article in The Philadelphia Inquirer. "I don't want to be known for having a tumor," Marissa had told her mom. "I want to be known for helping people."

And she was. The day before she died, Marissa received a personal letter from First Lady Michelle Obama commending her for her strength and bravery. For all her selfless work, the Akron Police Department also honored Marissa with its "Do the Right Thing" award in October 2009.

Marissa called these good works her "legacy of kindness" and used it to inspire hundreds of people in Greater Akron and beyond. When she passed away six days before Christmas, there was an outpouring of support from local residents and businesses. Strickland's donated vanilla ice cream for Marissa's "homecoming party," as she referred to it, and guests released a cloud of pink and green balloons – her favorite colors. 

But Marissa couldn't leave without making one last indelible mark on her community. In the weeks prior to her death, Marissa created a "will" that directed her mom to donate her toys, teddy bears and video games to charity. She also gave her mother specific instructions to carry on her legacy of kindness.

On March 26, 2010, Rosalyn established the Marissa Alexandra Norwood Legacy of Kindness Charitable Giving Fund at Akron Community Foundation. In accordance with Marissa's wishes, Rosalyn said the fund will permanently support children and families with chronic illness, domestic violence organizations, and animal rescue programs.

"Marissa believed in helping the little guy," Rosalyn said. "There were a lot of things she didn't get to fulfill, but the fund is a way for her dreams to come true. The fund will allow those random acts of kindness to continue to help other people."

For years to come, family, friends and community members can make contributions that will support grants to Marissa's favorite charities. A committee made up of representatives from the Lee-Norwood family, Akron Public Schools, the Northeast Ohio Region of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the Humane Society of Greater Akron, Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority – Zeta Theta Omega Chapter, and Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity – Eta Tau Lambda Chapter will decide how the grants should be distributed. 

Marissa's slogan was, "Never give up until life gives you what you want." She never gave up, and now she is getting what she always wanted: A legacy of kindness that will last forever.

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