JUST a week after his beloved daughter died at the age of 12, John Darling decided set up a charity in her memory.
To many people, including his ownwife, it seemed like a strange way of grieving.
But nearly three years on from Karis May Darling’s death from an infection which led to meningitis, John’s efforts finally have a very tangible form.
A community centre in Karis’s memory is due to open in Corringham this weekend.
Karis died suddenly in April 2011, after contracting a lethal streptococcus A infection.
Her mum, Kerri, 44, recalled: “John said he wanted to set up the foundation just a week after Karis died.
“For the first two years of it, I couldn’t understand. Now the community centre has taken shape, I can see why. I think without this, things would have been even harder for us.
“Everything we have done has come from the heart and the passion has kept us going.”
Through tireless fundraising for the Karis May Darling Foundation, the family raised £130,000, before getting permission from Thurrock Council to build the centre in the park, off Springhouse Road.
John, 45, who works in the construction industry, has spent every spare moment over the past five months working to put up the building from scratch.
He admits, it was his love for his family which got him through the awful tragedy.
He said: “It has definitely helped. It has given me a focus. I just didn’t knowwhat else to do.
“Karis is my little girl, at the end of the day, and I wanted to do something that recognised how she lived her life. She was always helping people.
“She would have been so proud to see the centre. This is all about her.
“I hope even when I’m gone, Karis’s memory will still be alive and she’ll still be helping people.”
The Karis May Darling Pavilion includes an Americanstyle diner, a traditional coffee shop, multi-purpose hall, and sound-proofed music room.
It will be open seven days a week, providing a home for afterschool clubs, mother and baby sessions, youth clubs, OAP mornings and other events But for John and Kerri, of Gardener Avenue, Corringham, the centre’s opening is just the beginning.
Their next project will involve taking the running of much of the park, adding an all-weather football pitch and opening a performing arts school.
The aim is to reflect their daughter’s love of sport, dance and singing.
Karis died on April 4, 2011. She would have been 16 this May 11, so the spring is a difficult time of year for her family, including sister Kristi, 18 and brother, Jonnie, ten.
Kerri said: “Kristi has really struggled, because she was so close to her sister. It was like losing a part of her, like losing a limb.
“She has always been so sad about it. I don’t think it will ever really pass until she has her own children.
“Karis was like a little mum to Jonnie, but he has coped much better. I think it’s because he’s a lot younger.”
Helping the family along the way over the past three years have been Karis’s Angels, a group of friends who formed a choir to raise money for and awareness of the foundation, and to keep her memory alive at Gable Hall School, Corringham.
The Angels will play a big role in the running of the pavilion, with one acting as secretary and another as a sports coach.
One of the group, Connor Allen, 15, said: “I can remember, when she died, we were all standing in Kerri and John’s kitchen, thinking she would walk through the door at any minute.
“It was really hard losing someone we were so close to at such a young age.
“We have all helped each other, and the experience has brought us all closer. We all go on daytrips together and call ourselves Karis’s family. Kerri is like a cool aunty figure to us. She says we are still babies to her.”
Teamwork- John and Kerri, with son, Jonnie and some of Karis’s Angels
Another Angel, Caitlin Timmings, 16, added: “I would never have thought when we first found out what happened to Karis we would be able to stand on stage and talk about it and support Kerri and John in the way we have.
“We are so excited about the community centre. We finally have something to show for all our hard work, and it means her memory will still be kept alive even after we leave school.”
The community centre opens its doors to the public for the first time tomorrow, though the official opening will be later this month.
As well as allowing people to look around, Karis’s Angels are inviting singers, aged between 11 and 15, to open auditions at the pavilion at 11am tomorrow in an effort to swell the ranks of the choir.