Harry's Foundation began shortly after the unexpected passing of 12-year old Harrison (Harry) J. Stout in November of 2005.
Although deeply saddened and still in shock, family and friends knew that starting a foundation in his honor and carrying on his brief legacy of giving, caring, and compassion was the only thing to do. In many ways, it provided his grieving family with something positive to focus on while doing their best to navigate their way through the unimaginable.
The quickly formed board made up of family and close friends, decided that an annual festival honoring Harry and raising funds would be the ideal way to accomplish the foundation goals. It was also decided to name the event "Harry Fest" which would reflect all things Harry...fun, food, music, and friends. The date of the event would fall on or near his May 20th birthday.
The very first Harry Fest, which we referred to as Harry Fest 13, reflecting the age Harry would have been at that time, took place at the Arcadia Creek Festival site in downtown Kalamazoo. Weather was not favorable, yet hundreds came to show their support and help raise funds for the foundation. There was live music, food, and hundreds of blue and white balloons.
After experiencing the challenges of hosting this type of event, the board began looking into alternate locations that might provide amenities that would make hosting the event a little easier. They settled on Bittersweet Ski Resort in Otsego, where the event grew and stayed for six years. The event was designed as a family festival, and when weather cooperated, it was perfect. The only problem was that it was still a tremendous amount of work for a small group of volunteers, and when the weather didn't cooperate, attendance was effected.
It was suggested that on Harry's 21st birthday, Harry Fest move more towards adults, and to a venue that simplified hosting it. The date was also changed and moved to the fall. In 2013, Harry Fest moved to The Stagecoach Barn in Richland, and it was a big success. Unfortunately, the venue closed shortly after Harry Fest 21, and a new location was required.
Harry Fest 22 was held at The Dock at Bayview, and it was the first year the live auction was introduced. The auction was a huge hit, but there was a desire to return to downtown Kalamazoo. Our final Michigan Harry Fest was held on September, 14th, 2018 at Arcadia Brewing.
In 2020, a new version of our fund raising event will be held in Tampa, Florida at Skipper's Smokehouse.
Harry's Foundation Board Of Directors is 100% volunteer, and the only money that doesn't go to our causes are the few expenses related to executing Harry Fest. Since our inception in 2005, we have had the great fortune to get support from many local businesses who still to this day provide that support.
United Rental, Cool 101, The Courthouse Athletic Club, Business Card Plus, and Schupan and Sons, have stepped up in a big way that makes it possible for us to raise the funds that go back in to the southwest Michigan community. Dozens of other local businesses, countless volunteers, event goers, and all the amazing musicians who have donated their time and talent to our causes have made it possible and pleasurable to continue our important mission.
Our list of causes has changed and grown over the years, but with a consistent focus on assisting youth causes. Tens of thousands have been given to students at Plainwell and Otsego high schools, with the main criteria being character, and not academic or athletic accomplishments. We are proud to know that dozens of students have gained valuable monitory assistance in their advanced educational pursuits.
We have provided financial assistance to several local families burdened with medical expenses from the treatment and care of their child or children.
We have placed thousands of dollars of band equipment into local middle and high schools so that the gift of music can grow for years to come.
We have also partnered with several local nonprofits who do an amazing job in assisting local youth related efforts. First Day Shoes, Wes Leonard's Heart Team, and Big Brothers/Big Sisters all receive contributions from Harry's Foundation.
And as proud as we all are of the difference our efforts are making in our community, we are even more proud that it is being done in the memory of Harry Stout.
We are looking forward to growing, giving, and sharing the love and spirit that was Harry Stout.