042115 Demi's Difference

Volunteers help with the live auction during the Demi’s Difference fundraiser Sunday at the Brazoria County Fairgrounds. The nonprofit organization raised about $300,000 in its inaugural fundraiser.

ANGLETON — Jarrod and Hayley Smith founded Demi’s Difference to honor their daughter’s memory by lending a financial hand to families of sick children, and the community is helping them make a big difference.

“We’re obviously brokenhearted with the tragedy that’s happened, but seeing the support helps to put our heart back together,” Hayley said during the organization’s inaugural fundraiser Sunday. “It means more to us than they can ever know, just to see them here in their yellow shirts is amazing.”

The Smiths, along with friends, family and other Brazoria County residents, gathered at the Brazoria County Fairgrounds for the fundraiser, which will help Demi’s Difference aid families with the expenses of a child dealing with major illness. The Smith family’s constant trips between Danbury and Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston for Demi’s treatments means lots of money spent on fuel and parking.

Jarrod and Hayley Smith received a gift card to help with their expenses, but saw families at the hospital struggling to pay theirs. They wanted to pay it forward after 3-year-old Demi died in December, and created Demi’s Difference to do so.

Thanks to the community’s support Sunday, they will be able to pay $300,000 forward, an amount that greatly exceeded expectations.

“We were blown away from the amount of support,” Hayley Smith said. “We would never have imagined that it would be this big.”

Hayley Smith said Demi’s Difference is coordinating with Texas Children’s Hospital on how best to apply the money to help fill needs of families there. Plans are begin made now.

About 95 volunteers assisted with the event and an estimated 1,500 people turned out for it.

“Southern Brazoria County is the best ever when it comes to raising money for a need that helps the community, an individual or organization,” said said Nancy Wollam, volunteer coordinator for the event. “The result is amazing.”

Despite having more people than they knew what to do with, organizers saw their desire to help Demi’s Difference and did not turn anyone away, Wollam said.

There also was no shortage of auction items, Wollam said, and those started pouring in before organizers starting asking for them.

The Brazoria County Board of Realtors, County Judge Matt Sebesta, Sheriff Charles Wagner, Sunny Hearts, Back Road Beauties and Two Chicks and a Paintbrush were among the auction donors, providing items such as Astros tickets, hunting and fishing trips, Aggie and Longhorn packages and a Texans tailgate package. Items went for as much as $6,000.

An event the size of the fundraiser takes a lot of work from many people, Hayley Smith said, and the fact it became such a success is a testament to everyone involved — including Demi herself.

Although she was alive for three short years, she served as an inspiration, her mother said. Demi always had a smile on her face despite her situation, and that helps inspire others to do good deeds in her memory, Hayley said.

“It’s like our theme, ‘Let Your Light Shine,’ that was her. She let her light shine all the time,” she said.

Andy Packard is a reporter for The Facts. Contact him at 979-237-0155.

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