Injured Lakewood teacher faces long recovery

Dat Dads’ Club to hold fundraiser to benefit her

Everything changed in an instant for Kristen Kenney, a fourth-grade teacher at Lakewood Elementary who suffered serious injuries in an automobile accident earlier this year – but there are people in her community who greatly wish to help.

Kenney will be the beneficiary of the inaugural fundraiser of the Dat Dads’ Club, a newly–established nonprofit founded by members of the local community.

The event will be a fishing rodeo held at Pier 90 on March 25, with proceeds to go to helping offset the medical and cost-of-living fees for Kenney, who has been unable to return to work as a result of her injuries.

“It’s going to be a long road to recovery,” said Kenney’s fiancé, Justin Cortez. “The doctors can’t really say how long it’s going to take her to get back to normal. Nobody expects for something like this to happen, ever. It’s a pretty big shock.”

Kenney was headed to meet Cortez for dinner Jan. 4 at Spahr’s restaurant in Des Allemands when her vehicle was struck by another car, resulting in a multi-vehicle accident. Cortez said Kenney has returned home from the hospital since the accident, but that she is still under active medical treatment for the  several significant injuries she suffered as result of the wreck. She and Cortez were scheduled to be married Feb. 25, but that has been put on hold.

He added Kenney has received an outpouring of support from her fellow teachers, her students and the surrounding community.

“She’s always been a very, very happy person,” Cortez said. “She enjoys life to the fullest. Kristen’s a very outgoing, sweet, loving and caring person … exactly what you’d expect a teacher to be. She’s had plenty of well-wishers encouraging her to get well soon. The community support has been amazing.”

Part of that support has come from the Dat Dads’ Club, which learned of Kenney’s plight after club organizer Claude Adams got word of a Super Bowl pool being held to help her.

“I found out she was a teacher and called a friend of mine who told me about her,” Adams said. “Her mom is the assistant principal at Mimosa (Elementary). I have a 21-year-old and a 13-year-old, they both went to Mimosa and Lakewood for school, so I said this is someone right here who has touched the lives of a lot of kids, and we can help her.”

Dat Dads’ Club is comprised of Willowdale and Mimosa residents who Adams said came together with a shared vision of helping others.

“They’re all dads,” Adams said. “We started with two guys, then we asked a few friends, people I knew from the booster club that I knew as volunteers, and we ran with it.”

The genesis of the idea came from fundraisers the Mimosa Booster Club held to benefit family of a longtime Mimosa volunteer coach whose son had to undergo more than 15 brain surgeries to eliminate a brain malformation.

“He had to fly to New York at great personal expense to family,” Adams said. “The coach never told us about this difficulty, he just always agreed to help us. When I found out about that,  we went to the family and asked, ‘can we do something to help you guys?’”

The group held a pool party fundraiser at Mimosa, then did so again the next year.

“That’s when one of the dad’s said ‘man, this is a great idea. We have so much community involvement. We ought to start a non-profit and do this more,’” Adams said.

The fishing rodeo is scheduled to begin at 6 a.m. with both boat fishing and bank fishing included. It will be $50 a boat for a two-man team and $10 for each person fishing from the bank.

All children 12 and under will fish for free. There will be prizes for different categories after weigh-in and, Adams hopes, a live auction. There will also be food, including white beans, jambalaya and, of course, fried fish, and a live D.J.

“We know that even if we raised $10,000, it wouldn’t be enough to offset what she’s got to deal with,” Adams said. “But if we can give (Kenney) one less thing to worry about, if she can maybe pay for her medication or co-pays because she has a little bit of money we were able to raise, that’s our goal.”

Adams said the club aims to put together three or four fundraisers each year — though more isn’t out of the question, he said, if situations call for it — with the fishing rodeo to be an annual staple.

Cortez said both he and Kenney are extremely appreciative for the helping hand.

“We’re both grateful for what everyone is doing to help Kristen out,” Cortez said. “For the Dat Dads’ Club and what they’re doing with this fishing rodeo, we’re  gonna continue to thank them. I hope I can help support the group and I’ll be a member of it going forward, after all of this has passed.”

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