By Chelsea Martin
A community that strives to maintain strong threads throughout all parts of its intricate web is crucial to its prosperity. When one member of a tightly knit community faces a difficult situation, the rational solution is to firmly support one another.
Residents of the neighboring community to Corona del Sol High School have shown such reinforcement since Blake Norvell, a 2006 Corona graduate, died unexpectedly in 2013. Without a moment’s hesitation, family and friends gathered to establish a “Smiles” scholarship as their ideal way to honor his passing.
Each year the scholarship recipient has embodied all the niche qualities that made Norvell such a special individual, most notably his academic integrity, community leadership and his magnetic personality. The first two recipients of the scholarship, Jessie Briggs and Shaye Busse, said they were humbled by the recognition and an opportunity to continue Blake’s legacy through their own academic experience.
“We want to encourage the seniors who have a 3.0-3.8 GPA that have clearly established their efforts through leadership within their school and community, but don’t necessarily get other scholarship opportunities,” said Stephanie Norvell, Blake’s mother.
“We really want to help that group of kids because I think it will give people hope.”
Since inception, the sole fundraising event for the annual scholarship is a one-night get-together with some of Norvell’s closest friends and family at a local establishment. Although this year’s event on Thanksgiving eve at the Hurricane Wings and Grille was only the third annual, the event has exponentially grown in just that short time, Stephanie reported.
“Once business owners heard Blake’s story, there wasn’t a doubt in their mind they would contribute,” she said. “Everyone was so generous. About 60 local businesses donated.”
The previous year they raised $2,000; this year the grand total was roughly $7,000, with nearly 200 people attending.
Longtime friend Tim Martin was among those who were pleased with this year’s turnout.
“I can’t believe how many people contributed and how much money was raised this year,” Martin said. “It really shows what kind of person Blake was to have all these people coming together every year to show their support. It’s powerful stuff.”
The official sponsors of the fundraiser included Hurricane Wings and Grille and Arizona Business Forms Inc., the latter of which donated all of the printing supplies for the event. The owner of Hurricane, Jacee Carosella, generated special menus that included Blake’s favorite drinks and appetizers, and provided the scholarship fund with 15 percent of the proceeds.
“I cannot stress to you just how supportive Jacee and her staff were that night,” Stephanie said. “They were so wonderful to work with.”
The impact of one is strong, but cannot match the overwhelming power of a united group, say program planners.
Stephanie had support from peers, including daughter Julianna, Tempe Dollars for Scholars and close friends Cindy Williams and Robin Todd.
The event itself was a tradition long before Blake passed away.
“I think what makes this fundraiser so special is that we always had this tradition to spend Thanksgiving Eve together with our close friends, and now even though Blake is gone he’s still bringing us together,” Maycie Thorton, one of the scholarship founders, said.
“Corona was such a special place for all of us, and Blake was quite an important part of that experience for everyone in our class, so it’s really wonderful to have the chance to keep the memory alive there.”
Simply captivated by the unrelenting support, Stephanie notes, “The one thing I’ve really learned through all this is how giving and truly supportive our community is. Blake’s friends have taken the time to transform a heartbreaking tragedy into something so positive. A way to help the community while at the same time carrying on his name.
“It’s simply amazing. If Blake could see this he would be smiling from ear to ear.”
To make a donation for the Smiles Scholarship, visit http://www.tempe.dollarsforscholars.org/index.php?section=chapterWebsite&action=donate&fwID=2034 and write Blake Norvell’s name in the memo line.
Local companies that contributed:
Klein Properties Investments, Turn-4-Wine, No Limits Scuba, Float Balloon Tours, AZ Sailing Adventures, Page Springs Cellars Winery, Chandler Walmart, A Sunset Chateau B&B, Red Rock Skydiving, AZ Grand Resort, Lisa J. Carter Photography, Staples, Blinkies, Elephant Bar, Valley Luna, Zipps, Abuelo’s, DC Steakhouse, PF Chang’s, Garcia’s, Black Angus, Charleston’s, Olive Garden, Marjele’s Sports Grill, Cornish Pasty Co., Bei Sushi, Pesto’s, Vinci Torio, Walt & Janice Bednarik, Cheddar’s, TC Eggingtons, Kneader’s, Trader Joe’s, Bennett Lane Winery, D-Party Nails, Shear Perfection Salon, Sun Angel Spray Tanning, Plunder Design, LifeQuest Physical Med/Rehab, Victoria Peterson, Independent Consultant Mary Kay/ Luhana Chelsey, Scottsdale Cultural Council, Farasue’s Garden, Global Bikes, Changing Hands, Phoenix Fire Station #42, Doug Royce, Dolly Steamboat, In the Detail, Jimmy & Joe’s Pizzeria, Home Depot, Lowes, Pollack Tempe Cinema, Twist Caramels, The Springs of Scottsdale, E(V)OLVE, Duke Golf, Club West Golf, Francisco West Grande Golf, Bobbie’s Flowers, Fred Flowers, Great Harvest Bread Co., Herberger Theater, Cobblestone Auto Spa, Chandler Dogs 24/7, Tott’s Asian Diner, Choose The Plunder Vintage Jewelry, Bisbee Breakfast Club, P. Croissant, Duza’s Kitchen, Longbow and Ken McDonald Golf Course.