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Duckler: A newborn baby, a tragedy and a charity with a funny name converge downtown

  • Beth Cook holds her newborn daughter Aubrielle soon after she was born. Beth Cook

  • Adam Cook holds his daughter Aubrielle’s tiny hand soon after her birth. Courtesy

  • Katie Barnfield, the aunt of Aubrielle and the founder and vice president of Aubrielle's Hope, at one of the events. Beth Cook

  • The urn for Aubrielle Cook's ashes. BETH COOK—Courtesy

  • Kevin Jack (right), chief operating officer of Swenson Granite, and colleague Scott Herrick started the organization Guys Who Give a $hit. Jack was the creator of the charitable organization, borrowing it from a similar program in Canada. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor columnist
Published: 9/21/2019 9:16:42 PM

A photo of Aubrielle Cook appeared on the screen, glowing in the dim light of a downtown bar.

An oxygen mask covered most of her face. Her eyes were closed. Tubes circled around her like a Los Angeles freeway system. She didn’t have much time left before her parents – Beth and Adam Cook of Merrimack – removed her from life support, shortly after the photo was taken.

Aubrielle, born with a long list of health problems 3½ years ago, lived for seven hours, 35 minutes. In a sense, though, family and friends have made sure that she’ll live forever through a nonprofit charity called Aubrielle’s Hope.

The picture of her on that screen was worth more than a thousand words; in this case, it was worth $9,000 as well, helping Aubrielle’s Hope garner more support than two other charities nominated by a group of men with a funny name.

Burials, cremations and headstones are expensive. It’s the last thing parents should have to worry about after the loss of a child.

That thought – a family short on money while coping with such an unthinkable loss – smacked Beaver Meadow School special education teacher Katie Barnfield, Aubrielle’s aunt and Adam’s sister, hard in the gut. She proposed her plan to Beth.

Aubrielle’s mom loved it.

“The idea was helping mothers and fathers get closure for the death of loved ones,” Beth Cook said. “She saw how hard it was for me and Adam. I thought it was a wonderful idea that she loved her nieces as much as this and she wanted to help others.”

That’s the idea behind Guys Who Give a $hit, created by Quebec City transplant Kevin Jack, who recently bought a house in Pembroke. He’s the CEO at Swenson Granite and creator of this charitable organization, borrowing it from a similar program in Canada, an answer to groups like 100 Women Who Care.

In keeping with the gender-specific name of the group, you won’t see many women at Jack’s gatherings.

“I didn’t want it to be a couples’ night, and every woman asks me that question,” Jack said. “My suggestion would be to start your own group, maybe Gals Who Give a $hit.”

Even the name is unapologetically forward, hiding a little bad word not-so-discreetly behind a dollar sign.

“It causes controversy, but it garners a lot of attention, and once you get past the name, everyone loves it,” Jack said. “They laugh and then say the same thing:
‘I’m in, just because of the name.’ ”

Whatever works.

The group meets every three months at Concord watering holes and restaurants considered a midpoint for participants from across the state.

Members – there are nearly 100 now, with dozens showing up at each meeting – nominate charities through their research online; three finalists are picked from a hat, and representatives attend these quarterly gatherings, stating their case through some sort of presentation.

I went to the most recent meeting, in the bar upstairs at the Bank of New Hampshire Stage. There, Aubrielle’s Hope competed against the Penacook Community Center, represented by Executive Director Rich Jaques, and the Granite State Children’s Alliance, with CEO Joy Barrett explaining why her group deserved the assistance.

Jaques wanted money to update the center’s facility, built in the 1950s. He wanted money to fund the summer camp and its weekly trips to city pools. He wanted it to continue the school scholarship program.

Barrett made her case, asking for help with a program that incorporates input from the medical, law enforcement and prosecutorial communities to protect children.

Videos were shown. Details were carefully mapped out and explained. These were solid, methodically planned presentations, held in front of about 40 guys intent on helping someone else that night.

The winner gets a minimum of $100 per attendee, plus money donated by those who have signed on but don’t attend. Some businesses give a lot more than the minimum.

Once, the group gave nearly $12,000, at a packed meeting at the Common Man Restaurant. They’ve raised almost $50,000 since last year. At stake during the most recent meeting last month: nine grand.

Two board members from Aubrielle’s Hope – Cristy Jenkins of Weare and Melissa Amato of Merrimack – stepped forward, armed with that photo of Aubrielle and little else.

Jenkins and Amato feared the other two organizations had displayed more polish and professionalism while trying to show why they were the right choice.

But the photo of a baby, peacefully struggling to stay alive, served its purpose. Local businessmen like Anthony Oglesby, who recently opened All Out Fitness Center in Penacook, are regular attendees of these quarterly meetings.

He saw the photo of Aubrielle – the mask, the tubes. He felt something, the tragic waves that ripple outward and affect so many beyond the immediate family, his mind flashing back to last month, when his friend’s granddaughter died at birth, and a few years earlier, when his aunt’s baby was stillborn.

“It had an impact because people can relate to what happened,” Oglesby said. “It gives you the realization that this really happens, and no one really pays attention. It sheds light on something that people don’t talk about. People still celebrate their lives, celebrate for the children they’ve lost.”

Jenkins and Amato celebrated shortly after Aubrielle’s Hope was announced as the winner. They buried their faces in their hands. They held back tears.

“To have a place where we could celebrate Aubrielle’s life and recall her is a very beautiful experience,” Jenkins said later by phone. “It’s something that has been helpful, and I continue to be in awe with the numbers of people this has impacted.”

Aubrielle’s Hope has helped five families thus far. Its goal is to donate $1,000 per month to each of two families who have lost babies or children up to 5 years old. The money is sent directly to the funeral home.

Beth and Adam spent $500 to cremate Aubrielle, her ashes now in an urn held by a teddy bear in their home. The couple knew there would be health problems, shown by an anatomy scan, but they chose to bring their daughter into the world and hope for the best. Aubrielle Cook’s middle name, in fact, is Hope.

“We went on faith and said we will make her life as wonderful as we can for as long as we can,” Beth Cook said. “We said we’d try to love her as long as we have her.”

Aubrielle was born on April 13, with kidney problems and underdeveloped, breathing-impaired lungs. Beth and Adam watched their daughter struggle, still holding out hope that she could survive and, in some small way, thrive.

“We were hoping her lungs would begin to work,” Beth told me. “The nurse, who was sweet and understanding, pulled me aside and said, ‘I need to tell you that she is hurting and nothing is going to make her feel better.​​​​​​’ ​Adam and I looked at each other and thought about it and said we needed to stop torturing our daughter. We needed to do the loving thing and let her go.”

Beth and Adam allowed family members, two at a time, to say their goodbyes, before the couple went in for a final time. Aubrielle was taken off life support and handed to her mother and father. They rocked her, cuddled her, held her hand, touched her face, watched her fight, a battle that in total lasted 7 hours and 35 minutes.

Sometime during the process, they snapped a photo of their daughter, with her oxygen mask and that tangle of tubes. And after Barnfield told her sister-in-law about this charitable group with the funny name, Aubrielle’s name was allowed to live on.

The photo did the trick.

“She was perfect from the outside,” Beth said. “I knew she had problems on the inside, but her outside was so beautiful. I don’t regret one bit having my daughter, even though she lived just seven hours and 35 minutes.

“I would do it all over again in a second.”

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