Friends and family painted them on their faces and even on their toenails Saturday for the Samantha Kelly Memorial Fund fundraiser at the Waffle House in Williamsport.
So when butterflies began to circle inside of the tent where they sold T-shirts and wristbands in her memory, many were overcome with emotion.
“First, there was a monarch, then a little yellow one, then a few white ones fluttering through,” said Samantha’s cousin Cristina Welch, 28, of Hancock. “I just felt like she was here, like she was watching over us. It gave us chills.”
Samantha, known by most as Sam, died in May as a result of injuries sustained in a motor-vehicle accident. The 17-year-old Williamsport High School senior was captain of the varsity volleyball and tennis teams. She was an honor student and active in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
Brian Vinci, Sam’s stepfather, said family and friends established the memorial fund to honor her “helping spirit.”
“Sam really liked to help people. We thought this would be a way to honor that, to help other girls like her go on to college to achieve their goals,” he said.
The fund is a nonprofit organization that will award $1,000 annual scholarships to college-bound, female seniors at Williamsport High School who exhibit outstanding academics, athletics and leadership.
Sam’s brother, Jack Kelly, 16, said the criteria of the scholarship are an appropriate tribute to his sister.
“I think it’s perfect that the scholarship will go to someone as much like Sam as you can be without being her,” he said.
Jonna Vinci, Sam’s mother, described her daughter as “the kind of person you want on your team.”
“If someone was down, not doing their best, she would try to pick you up,” she said. “You want that, on the court and in life.”
Organizers chose the Waffle House as the site for the fund’s first fundraiser because Sam and her friends liked to hang out there. An early crowd packed the restaurant, and groups continued to flow in throughout the day. Brian Vinci estimated that attendance approached the 1,000 mark, a turnout he called “tremendous” and “amazing.”
The Waffle House donated 10 percent of its receipts for 24 hours of sales. More than 600 T-shirts and 300 wristbands sold out. Community members donated hundreds of bake-sale items, and the Williamsport High School volleyball team washed cars.
“It is overwhelming,” Jonna Vinci said. “It makes me feel very proud not only of Sam, but of our community and how they are embracing us. People came out of their way to help.”
Family friend Beth Ferree wore a shirt that read, “Celebrate life. Love, happiness and laughter comes with it.” The quote was among many encouragements that Sam had become known for sharing via Twitter.
“For a 17-year-old, her tweets were very deep and inspirational,” Ferree said.
Sam’s cousin, Carrie Ott, 26, of Fredericksburg, Va., said Sam was “full of life and happiness.”
“She touched everybody’s life that she met, whether for a second or if she knew them for a while. She had very strong faith,” Ott said.
Nancy Kirkpatrick of Cascade used to work with Sam’s mother. She hoped the scholarship fund would help the family deal with the grief.
“It’s a horrible thing to lose a child,” she said. “This helps keep her memory alive and gives the community a way to express itself.”
Williamsport High School varsity volleyball coach Emily Crabtree said the event was bittersweet.
“I wish we didn’t have to have it,” she said through tears. “But it’s awesome to see the community spirit. We are here laughing and talking about Sam. It’s a tough day, but it’s a good day.”
Brian Vinci said proceeds from the fundraiser were more than $10,000.