Lost and Found – Children who lost a parent find sanctuary with unique outreach group

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At a time when many charities are struggling, the Detroit area’s Yatooma’s Foundation For The Kids is riding a steep and steady wave of support, with outreach efforts fanning out to Harrison Township, north to Pontiac and back to Detroit.

The group’s mainstay fundraiser, Champions for the Kids, June 8-9, pulled in $700,000, up to $200,000 over last year’s total.

Washington Township businessman Jeff Feltrin of Prototype Solutions in Sterling Heights helped drive the success of this event by signing on as this year’s title sponsor.

“I lost my mother (Janet Feltrin) to liver and kidney failure when I was in my early 20s,” said Feltrin, whose company manufacturers fixtures for the automotive and aerospace industries. “So when I heard about what Norman was going, it was near and dear to my heart.”

FTK helps the families of kids who’ve lost a parent or parents by providing practical, professional, personal and financial assistance at all levels or recovery.

The 2-day fundraiser included a VIP dinner and auction followed by a golf tournament at the prestigious Oakland Hills Country Club.

“I’ve tried to increase my support each year and after last year’s Christmas Party.” Feltrin said, “I wanted to get even more involved to see the results.”

Assistance comes in the form of financial support for groceries, utilities, transportation or mortgage payments, grief counseling and support groups, tutoring, mentoring, household maintenance and repairs, legal assistance, vocational training, job placement and cultural programming.

“We know what we’re going,” said West Bloomfield lawyer Norman Yatooma, organization founder. “We’re providing the services my family needed when we lost my dad, tragically, violently, 15 years ago.”

Yatooma was a 20-year old college student when his dad, Manuel – for whom the organization is named – was shot to death while interrupting a carjacking in Detroit at one of his seven convenience stores.

Norman, the oldest of four, and his mother, Andrea, were left to pick up the pieces; which included sorting through the claims of dozens of creditors. As a result, the family was catapulted from relative wealth to independence on Social Security.

Amy White of St. Clair Shores can relate well to the Yatooma family experience.

Less than a year after being downsized from his job as a lawyer, White’s husband, Anthony Thomas White, father to the couple’s two small children and a non-smoker, found he has advanced small cell lung cancer.

Seven days later, White was dead.

“When you lose someone suddenly like that, it’s hard to sit down and concentrate,” said Amy White. “But Foundation for the Kids came in and helped me figure out a game plan.”

A former stay-at-home mom, White is now pursuing her nursing degree. Before Christmas, she received a mint-condition 1999 Pontiac Grand Prix with the help of FTK, Charity Motors and Collex Auto Collision.

“We tried to do everything right,” White explained. “Our savings and life insurance disappeared in that year before he died. Then there was nothing.”

“Something breaks in the house, something goes wrong with your car, the foundation was there,” she said. “They helped me with my utilities, food, clothing; the kids attended grief camp. We’re back on our feet now. But how do I even begin to thank them?”

In the 15 years since Manuel’s death, Norman Yatooma spent years settling his father’s estate, earned his law degree and established his own commercial litigation firm. Along the way he won a handful of high-profile cases – including the La-Van Hawkins case – got married and started the foundation. He and wife Nicole are expecting their third child.

In five short years he has watched the foundation grow to assist 500 kids throughout metropolitan Detroit.

Not bad for someone who has just turned 36.

“From the beginning we’ve been blessed with amazing community supprt,” Yatooma said. “WJR donates $300,000 of on-air exposure annually. Comcast gives us $400,000 in advertising, including moving billboards all over town.”

Yatooma’s own work includes representing Jonathon Bond, the 15-year-old son of Tamara Greene, aka “strawberry,” an exotic dancer said to have performed at a party hosted by Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick before being murdered three months later.

“Jonathon and I have a lot in common,” Yatooma said. “We both lost parents to violent crimes in Detroit; both unsolved murders to this day. All I want is the same answers the mayor would want if his mother were killed.”

Regarding the foundation, Yatooma’s future plans include taking it national.

“What we do is unique, not just in Michigan but throughout the union,” Yatooma said. “There are kids and families all over this country who need this kind of help.”

For assistance or to donate, visit www.forthekidsfoundation.org

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