MANATEE — Five Southeast High School graduates have reconnected to help out a friend in need.
And that has led them to what may become an even higher calling.
The women, all 1990 or 1991 Southeast grads, started the Courtney Rae Starling Celebration of Life Foundation in honor of Tanya Dimeglio’s 14-year-old daughter, who died May 2 when the family was involved in an automobile accident on Interstate 75.
The nonprofit group already has a major business sponsor and two benefit events lined up to help the Dimeglio family with funeral and medical expenses and everyday needs. Four other children live with Tanya and her husband, John Dimeglio.
The success of the effort so far has foundation leaders thinking long-term.
“We’ve had such a wonderful response from the community,” foundation President Lisa Frederickson said. “We’re going to continue with this foundation in the hopes we can help other families.
“It’s such a huge burden with all the unexpected expenses that pop up.”
Missy Hoblock, Dani Tramontana, Andrea Ribarich and Lorrie Moore joined Frederickson and her mother, Barbara Parsons, to start the foundation. Hoblock, Tramontana and Ribarich have known Tanya Dimeglio as far back as Girl Scouts.
“It’s just a bunch of my girlfriends,” Tanya Dimeglio said by phone from Get Down Downtown, where she was helping her friends spread the word about a June 27 benefit concert. “I knew they would always be there for me. I’ve been really surprised by what the community has done for us.”
Tanya Dimeglio, who is still experiencing severe neck and back pain from the accident, said she plans to be involved in keeping the foundation going.
“I’ve never known anyone who has been in my situation,” she said, trying to keep from crying. “I really want to help.”
The benefit concert for the Dimeglios will be held from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. June 27 at Fruitville Grove, 7410 Fruitville Road, Sarasota. It will feature four Bradenton bands — Black Swamp Gypsies, Boss Hawg, Big Daddy and Rye Road — along with refreshments, a petting zoo, face- and caricature-painting, a raffle and a silent auction.
Frederickson said the foundation hopes to raise $10,000 at the benefit. Tickets are $5 in advance, available at www.courtneystarlingfoundation.org, or $8 at the gate.
On May 30, McCurdy’s Comedy Club donated a night of entertainment in which all proceeds from ticket sales went to the foundation. The event — the brainchild of Hoblock and her husband, house comic Johnny Hobbs — raised $1,100.
The business sponsor is Honda Cars of Bradenton, which donated $3,000, a four-pack of Disney World passes and a one-year family membership to the YMCA after General Manager Matt Woods saw a posting about the foundation.
Woods revealed an extra surprise for the Dimeglios when they arrived at the dealership to accept the $3,000 check. He handed them the keys to a 2004 Honda Odyssey minivan.
“Both Tanya and her husband John ... immediately broke into tears,” Frederickson said. “They were both very emotional. It was a tear-jerker.”
Said Tanya Dimeglio, “My husband and I were shocked. That was amazing.”
Courtney, a Haile Middle School eighth-grader, died on the way to a Tampa Bay Rays game after John Dimeglio, her stepfather, lost control of the family’s 1995 Ford Explorer sport utility vehicle on I-75, according to a Florida Highway Patrol report. The vehicle’s left rear tire ruptured, causing the SUV to overturn and come to rest on its roof, the report said.
Courtney was partially ejected from the back seat of the SUV and pronounced dead at the scene.
Tanya Dimeglio, who was in the passenger seat, was airlifted to Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg and spent four days there in critical condition. Doctors have told her she won’t be able to return to work until mid-August.