This One’s For The Kids

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Norman Yatooma was 20 years old and away at college, where he had just been elected student body president, when he found out his dad was shot and killed in a carjacking.

“From there, a pretty long and ugly trail of tears followed. My father’s estate was open for 10 years, but it only took about six months for us to go broke, and not country-club broke, I mean repoman’s in the driveway, foreclosure on the house broke,” Yatooma said.

That, and becoming a father himself, is why Yatooma, now a 35-year old attorney with a private practice in Birmingham, started Yatooma’s Foundation For the Kids.

For children who have lost one or both parents, the foundation will help settle legal matters and provide financial assistance, grief counseling and even help with the small things such as picking up groceries and mowing the lawn.

“We went through our own slice of hell after Dad died, and I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing to help people who have gone through what we’ve been through?’” Yatooma said.

Yatooma began working on the application to start the foundation and become 501c3 cerfitied. He called on his family and friends to help out, and on Father’s Day 2003, 10 years after his dad had died, he formally launched the foundation.

“Before long, we had a couple hundred of volunteers, lawyers and accountants, counselors, roofers and will all these people volunteering their trade, we were able to get a lot done without a lot of money,” Yatooma said.

“We endeavor to do all the things that my family needed after my dad died, to make their process easier so they can go through the grieving process the natural way and let the kids be kids, and not have to grow up overnight,” he said.

Growing up overnight is something Yatooma can relate to. With three younger brothers who were 14, 13 and 11 at the time of their father’s death, and a mother who was a homemaker, Yatooma stepped up to keep his family’s house out of foreclosure.

“Dad was the breadwinner,” he said. “There was really no capacity to pay those bills, and my brothers were very young, quite scared. My mother was pretty overwhelmed.”

“I was attending Taylor University, a small Christian school, and the provost made a personal loan to me so I could use my school loans to help my family,” Yatooma said.

About 90 percent of the beneficiaries of the foundation are in the southeast Michigan, with another 5 percent throughout the state, Yatooma said.

“Our intention is to cover the Midwest in the next three years and to become a national organization in the next five,” Yatooma said.

This weekend, the foundation is having fund-raisers. Birmingham Townsend Hotel will host a VIP dinner and auction, starting at 5 p.m. Sunday.

“There will be an auction that will knock your socks off,” Yatooma said.

Six trips, a $60,000 extreme smile makeover, the chance to go on a recruiting trip with Michigan State University basket-ball coach Tom Izzo or be a coach for a day at an MSU football game, a dinner for eight with Red Wings hall of famer Ted Lindsay and his wife, Joanne, or a fighter jet experience are just some of the 30 items to be auctioned live.

Some tickets, which cost $250 per person, are still left, as are tickets for the golf outing at Oakland Hills on Monday.

The golf outing, with registration beginning at 8 a.m. and a staggered shotgun start at 10:15 a.m., is $3,500 for a group of four on the north course – $875 per person – or $6,000 for a group of four on the south course, $1,500 per person. Golfers will get three meals, access to an open bar and leave with gifts, Yatooma said.

“In these difficult times, most charities are hurting, but I still think we’ll generate several hundred thousand dollars, and I hope we’ll approach half a million,” Yatooma said.

“These are needs that go well beyond Michigan’s borders,” Yatooma said.

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