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January 18, 2017

Most kids love animals in a big, warm and wonderful way. But Ben Cote took that love to a whole new level. He participated in fundraising walks to raise money for Wayside Waifs, a Kansas City rescue organization. He scooped poop and donated his earnings to help homeless animals. His love for his family’s pets was boundless.

Ben’s dream was no animal would go unwanted; that one day every animal would have a home, and there would be no need for shelters. He dreamed, too, of becoming a veterinarian to care for the animals he loved.

But nine years ago, when he was just 8 years old, Ben lost his battle with childhood cancer. His devastated family was determined not to let Ben’s death diminish Ben’s light.

“Ben died in September and his birthday is in January,” said Megan Cote, Ben’s mom. “That first year his sister, who was 6 at the time, asked, ‘What are we doing for Ben’s birthday?’ She wanted pizza and cupcakes, and we decided to have everyone paint a picture that reminded them of Ben, and have a little art show.”

That art show turned into a fundraising event, where the paintings were turned into note cards and sold to help fund scholarships for veterinary students through Morris Animal Foundation. If Ben couldn’t go to veterinary school, his family and friends were determined to help see his dreams come true for someone else who could. Ben’s Fund was born and Ben’s legacy lived on.

The art show became an annual event. Of course, over the years those original art canvases began to fill up the Cote family’s basement. After six years, the family decided to sell the canvases and have a fundraiser for the Great Plains SPCA, which was opening a new facility and creating a low-income veterinary center. The auction raised $60,000 for the shelter and the family decided it was a good note upon which to end the annual parties. Ben’s friends were in middle school, and said Megan, friends and family had been asked a lot over the years.

This year, though, Ben would have been 18 years old on January 18 – his golden birthday. And the family has decided to honor his legacy by once again fundraising for a scholarship, but this time to support a graduating high school senior who, like Ben, dreams of going to veterinary school and becoming a veterinarian.

“Ben would have graduated from high school this year, and we felt like what we needed was a celebration,” said Megan. “Instead of graduation gifts, we can ask for gifts to fund a scholarship. I think our son would be proud. Fundraising over the years for these scholarships has been so effortless and so successful simply because this was still Ben’s purpose – he had more to give to animals across the globe.”

This year, on January 19, Kendra Scott, a retail jewelry store, will be hosting a fundraising event to raise money for Ben’s Fund. Half of earnings will go to Morris Animal Foundation, and half toward a high school scholarship at Blue Valley North High School in Kansas City, from where Ben would have graduated.

“The last year that Ben was able to walk for Wayside Waifs, there was a woman who added her walk money to Ben’s pot,” said Megan. “He raised $10,000 for the shelter that last year. His spirit was not diminished by cancer.”

On January 19, from 6-8 p.m., the Kendra Scott store in Leawood, Kansas, will host an in-store fundraising event, donating 20 percent of all sales to Ben’s Fund. For those outside of the Kansas City area, you can participate by browsing Kendra Scott and then calling the Leawood store directly at 913.326.1806 to place an order on behalf of Ben’s Fund.