Five recent New Canaan High School graduates were beginning their senior internships at Livewell Designs this past April when their internship mentor – and my beloved sister – Kelly Devine passed away suddenly and unexpectedly of a heart attack.
Claire O’Hare, who owns Livewell Design with her sister Susan Dimarco, had already helped the interns develop a product to “design, market, and package all by themselves.” Mary Taylor, Libby O’Hare, Lizzie Kaliff, Isabella Savini, Abby Neugeboren and Lauren Rutledge designed an “Oh the Places You’ll Go” graduation necklace to sell to NCHS seniors.
After Kelly died, the interns – some of whom were Kelly’s former students at Saxe and NCHS – decided to donate 20% of the proceeds from the “PYG” necklace to the Kelly Devine Scholarship Fund.
“We all came together right after the internship started and were thinking what we would make just the week after Kelly passed,” Kelly’s former student and Livewell intern Mary Taylor said. “We decided the scholarship is such a great cause because we all loved [Kelly] and we were total messes.”
Not only did the students advertise in school and on social media to sell necklaces, they also went around to stores in New Canaan and asked them to sell necklaces even though they would not reap any of the profits. The stores – Pimlico, Wave, Townhouse and She La La – all agreed to do so.
The interns divided the work among themselves; Claire’s own daughter Libby took over package design, and Mary went around asking New Canaan businesses to put the necklaces in their stores.
Taylor said the stores’ willingness to participate showed Kelly’s impact on the community.
“I went into one store where the boss started crying,” Taylor said. “It was more than just a graduation necklace; these stores understood that it was a way to grieve, and it was a cathartic experience for all of us.”
Livewell owner Claire O’Hare also used the word “cathartic” to describe the experience, saying the students learned more than just marketing.
“The students learned how the power of a relationship impacts business. As marketers, they were able to tie the product to a purpose, something greater than themselves,” O’Hare said. “And they were so proud of it.”
The Kelly Devine Memorial Scholarship, created by Cathy and Jay Devine, is to be awarded annually to a Norwalk High School student with a strong interest in Language Arts or a related field. Other criteria include academic achievements, extracurricular activities and financial need.
“Kelly loved English and education and was a proud alumna of Norwalk High School. We thought a scholarship like this would be beneficial in Norwalk,” Jay Devine said.
Originally intended to be a one-time scholarship, donors have given over $50,000, so the family chose to make it an annual award.
“I would have guessed we’d raise four or five thousand dollars, but we received nearly ten times that,” Jay Devine said. “As a community, New Canaan students, parents and co-workers have been extremely generous.”
This past May, the first Kelly Devine Memorial Scholarship was awarded during the Norwalk High Scholarship Night to Arissa Troy, who will be matriculating to Boston College this fall. In addition to being an excellent student, she played field hockey and lacrosse, participated in the Saferides program, volunteered as a peer tutor and was a member of the Spanish Club.
“I didn’t know Kelly, but I was genuinely honored to be the first recipient,” Troy said. “At school, everyone had kind words to say about her. You can ask anyone who knows me – they know how surprised and happy I was to be the first person to receive it.”
On a personal note, the New Canaan community has supported my family beyond the realm of the scholarship. Students, teachers – even members of the community I meet through my internship at the New Canaanite – have shared stories, memories and pictures; written us heartfelt letters and poems and given us books and jewelry. Though bittersweet, we are infinitely grateful for the stories and items that have comforted us in our grief. More than ever, the outpouring of support has made my family proud of Kelly’s ability to make a difference in so many lives – a quality we hope to commemorate and inspire in others through the Kelly Devine Memorial Scholarship.