On Thursday, we presented Kait’s Angels with our annual People of the Year award at a ceremony at Martha Clara Vineyards. This is the video we screened during the ceremony and the original announcement from January.
It’s been nearly a year since Molly Waitz helped establish a non-profit group in memory of her friend, who died at the age of 20.
The organization is called Kait’s Angels in memory of Kaitlyn Doorhy, a 2012 Mattituck High School graduate who was killed Aug. 22, 2014, after she was struck by a car while crossing the street near her sorority house by Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn. The high achiever and honors student was a junior with aspirations of becoming an attorney.
In high school, Kaitlyn played multiple sports and musical instruments, earned the rank of chief in the high school’s NJROTC program and was named the 2011 Strawberry Queen at the annual Mattituck Lions Club Strawberry festival, among other accomplishments.
During a memorial service at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Mattituck marking the one-year anniversary of her death, Kaitlyn’s mother, Darla, addressed a standing-room only crowd where most people wore pink — Kaitlyn’s favorite color. She told the story of how her daughter saved several people’s lives by becoming an organ donor, something she decided to do at the age of 16.
For Ms. Waitz, who co-founded Kait’s Angels with fellow Mattituck residents Tim Bialeski and Jon Demopoulos, the past year has meant keeping Ms. Doorhy’s ambitions alive by organizing volunteer efforts that instill hope and kindness in others.
For inspiring compassion among youth and helping others, Kait’s Angels is The Suffolk Times’ People of the Year for 2015.
The organization has raised money for local families in need, including a yard sale to benefit Benjamin Pileski. The 20-year-old Mattituck High School graduate was on leave from the U.S. Navy when he was critically injured July 5 after being struck by a taxi while crossing the street in Montauk.
The group has also hosted fun community events and donated Buddy Benches to elementary schools across the North Fork to help teach children the importance of friendship. At the dedication of the first bench at Cutchogue East Elementary School, Kaitlyn’s father, Joe, said he was “overwhelmed with the outpouring [of support] from the community.”
“It’s a bittersweet day,” he said. “I can’t thank the people of this community enough for everything they’ve done.”
Ms. Waitz said it’s all just an extension of Kaitlyn’s good deeds.
“The stuff that Kaitlyn did while she was here — we didn’t want it to end,” she said. “We wanted to pick up where she left off.”
In a recent interview, Mr. Demopoulos said he decided to help create Kait’s Angels after reading about Ms. Doorhy’s life — something he said inspired him to be “more productive, positive and to think bigger.”
Mr. Demopoulos, who graduated from Mattituck High School in 2004 and has a background in film and graphic design, volunteered to create the group’s website — his first — and handle its social media accounts, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, by posting positive and inspirational messages.
“We want this to be big, with people spreading this message of positivity,” he said. “Just looking at the future, it’s exciting to see who it will be able to reach.”
Kait’s Angels president William Araneo — who is also a longtime member of the Mattituck Lion’s Club, the group that provided immediate support to establish the organization’s legal status as a nonprofit — said he enjoys how well Kait’s Angels has engaged with the community. One way it has achieved this is with Kait’s Kits, a bundle containing Kait’s Angels merchandise like T-shirts, travel mugs and bracelets. The group also encourages others to perform good deeds and to “pass them forward” by giving a Kait’s Angels card to their recipients.
In addition, the group has hosted several fundraisers, including a “Paint and Taste” event at Macari Vineyards and a designer handbag WINGO night and poker run, with proceeds going to local families in need.
Jane Flinter, a longtime Mattituck resident, described the group as inspirational and said she’s grateful it donated a gift basket to a close friend and neighbor who is battling cancer.
“They have made so many community members count their blessings and, even more importantly, share those blessings with others,” Ms. Flinter said. “They have turned a tragic event into something that transcends grief and brings joy.”
The group has big plans for 2016, including starting new chapters in other states and organizing youth programs.
Mattituck School District Superintendent Anne Smith described Kait’s Angels’ mission as being more than being a charitable organization, since it encourages compassion and friendship.
“The best leaders lead themselves — and Kaitlyn was really that kind of a leader,” Dr. Smith said. “She was always looking ahead at what she wanted to do, but never hesitated to look left and right to see who’s with her.”
Top photo: Kait’s Angels volunteers put together their first Poker Run fundraiser July 26 at Mattituck High School. The charity organization was established last year in memory of Kaitlyn Doorhy and has raised money for local families in need. (Credit: Katharine Schroeder, file)
2014 — Jeff Heidtmann
2013 — David Gamberg and Michael Comanda
2012 — Southold Emergency Response Team
2011 — Paul and Barbara Stoutenburgh
2010 — Scott Russell
2009 — Ryan Creighton
2008 — North Fork NJROTC
2007 — Maureen’s haven
2006 — Southold Town Animal Shelter
2005 — Ronnie Wacker
2004 — Josh Horton
2003 — Regina Maris Crew
2002 — Colin Van Tuyl
2001 — Frank LePré
2000 — Ellie Hall
1999 — Sister Margaret Smyth
1998 — Reverend Lynda Clements
1997 — Tim Caufield
1996 — Dr. Micah Kaplan
1995 — David Kappell
1994 — Bob Levy
1993 — Walter Dohm
1992 — Reverend Summers
1991 — Planning Conference
1990 — 350th Committee
1989 — Lynne Richards
1988 — Franklin Bear
1987 — Linda Graham