LAKEWOOD RANCH -- The untimely death of a young Bradenton girl who attended elementary school in Lakewood Ranch has resulted in an outpouring of support for her family, who are barely making ends meet with mounting medical bills and funeral costs. But thanks to an online fundraising effort and a groundswell of support from friends who are hosting small rallies in her honor and anonymous donors, the family is hoping for the best.
Ashlynn Bateman was just 8 years old when she died unexpectedly last Saturday from complications of the flu. She was part of a large family that included two brothers, Tyler and Austin, and an older sister. Julian. Ashlynn, along with Austin and Julian, attended Imagine School at Lakewood Ranch, a charter school where she had been a student since pre-kindergarten,
Her great uncle, Randy Pena, was shocked and saddened by the sudden passing of Ashlynn, and out of respect for his niece, Danielle, Ashlynn's mother, he quickly set up an online fundraising campaign to explain the severe situation that confronts his niece and her husband, William. Although William works, Pena says the family is hurting financially and has no medical insurance to provide for Ashlynn, who became ill and passed away from complications of flu-like symptoms, according to Pena.
As of Friday afternoon, the website had garnered more than $5,000 in donations, and Pena says they have received more monetary contributions nearing his goal of $10,000 from friends of Ashlynn, family members and donors who heard about her passing and wanted to help out.
"We've had a lot of peo
ple give so far. We've been blessed that they've given from so many sources. The family had nothing as far as insurance for medical situations. These things happen suddenly, and it caught them by surprise," Pena said.
In addition to the fundraising efforts by Ashlynn's family, they have arranged a Celebration of Life for her Saturday at the family's church, Church of the Cross in Bradenton, and guests are being asked to wear colorful and vibrant colors in her memory.
Imagine School's principal, Selenia Quinones, says the school is working on plans to create a memorial garden or plant a tree in Ashlynn's honor.
The Manatee County School District, which has oversight over the charter school, made counselors available to talk to the students and families this past week following Ashlynn's death. Many from the school are planning to attend Ashlynn's service at the Church of the Cross, a non-denominational church. A spokeswoman for the church says the service will open with a prayer and remarks by directors of the Children's Ministry who knew Ashlynn, followed by a life video of the little girl and a eulogy from Pastor Stan Pavkovich.
One of Ashlynn's former teachers at Imagine School, Lisa Deramo, wrote on Ashlynn's fundraising page it was a privilege to have her as a student.
"Ashlynn didn't know a stranger. She stole everyone's heart with her heart. I still look for her when I pick up my students in the courtyard, but sadly she isn't there. My students said that Ashlynn is with us, we just can't see her."
School receptionist Arlene Butz, saddened by the sudden passing, said it's going to be tough attending Saturday's service in Ashlynn's memory.
"She always loved to give hugs. She loved life. She was a very special little girl."
The Celebration of Life for Ashlynn Hailey Bateman will take place this Saturday, May 17 at noon at Church of the Cross, 5051 26th Street West in Bradenton.
-- East Manatee Editor Jason Bartolone contributed to this report.
Kathryn Moschella, Lakewood Ranch reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7010. Follow her on Twitter @MoschellaHerald.