Forecaster Forum: 'Becky's Village' is a special place

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YARMOUTH — On Aug. 6, our beloved, 23-year-old daughter, Becky Schaffer, died in a hiking accident halfway across the world.

She was about to start teaching local children on a tiny Pacific Island through a volunteer organization, WorldTeach. In an inspiring and touching obituary published on Aug. 18, this paper paid fitting tribute to her joy, her selfless dedication to others and her many accomplishments.

We write now to express our profound gratitude to the community that helped create such an extraordinary young woman, a community that included scores of our Yarmouth neighbors and friends, our relatives, mere acquaintances, and devoted lifetime friends from around the country and world.

This diverse group responded to our family’s needs and our mutual grief with heart-stopping generosity and tenderness. Over the years, we have seen many letters in The Forecaster thanking neighbors and officials for the unbidden assistance they received in a time of great stress and fear. I now understand that these gifts of love and courage (often from strangers) are no exception. They are what people do in our community, for we are a family in many ways. The worst calamities bring out the best in good people.

The list of the gifts we were given is almost endless. The many telephone calls and eloquently crafted letters; the people who drove hours to spend a few minutes with us, often finding that we weren’t even able to see them; the lovingly prepared meals and muffins; the unglamorous chores that just seems to get done, from cleaning our dog-haired filled home, to mowing the lawn, cleaning the flower beds, taking the trash to the dump, and providing homes for our many out-of-town guests. Someone was always on duty to answer the door or phone, allowing us to retreat to our beds when we could take no more.

Numerous responsibilities went into planning and executing what many described as one of the most beautiful and moving Celebrations of Life ever held at the First Parish Church in Yarmouth. It was filled with laughter, tears, music, a sea of wild flowers from her classmates’ farm, videos, and words of great insight about Becky and her world.

Many have also responded generously to our suggestion that donations in Becky’s memory be directed to the children’s center in Kenya, where Becky volunteered last year and this spring – a bare-bones, dusty place founded by Kenyans where past horrors are replaced with love, health, laughter and hope; the place where Becky left her heart and where the children grieve her deeply.

If you are interested in making this gesture, please contact Beth Costello at 846-1591 for more information, or simply send your contribution, payable to Lift Up Africa, to Beth at 89 Sisquisic Trail, Yarmouth, ME 04096. We will travel to Kenya in November to help Mary set up Becky’s fund, to ensure that it provides effective, enduring assistance; to plan further fundraising efforts, and, most of all, to be with the children.

We hope to write a book about how Yarmouth shaped our daughter, for we believe her life and our community provide a model for the world. She moved to her beloved Maine at the age of 8, an intrepid yet bashful girl, determined to set her own course, and because of the encouragement she received from us and her community, she did. She died far, far too young, but she was doing what she loved.

As many mourners have noted, she did more in her little more than two decades than most people accomplish in a full lifetime. We wish that we could say that is comfort enough. We will always want more, and our loss is forever. But we can all take pride in being part of the village that raised this child, and hope that Becky’s example will continue to inspire others to follow her lead in her quest for justice, fairness, serving others, kindness, and a joyous zest for life.

Janice Cooper and Bill Schaffer live in Yarmouth.

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