Awareness through art: UW-Whitewater alumni give back with Everett's Mugs
August 04, 2014
A heart murmur. An echocardiogram. An atrial septal defect. A ventricle septal defect. Open-heart surgery.
The medical terms were never ending for UW-Whitewater alumni and former faculty members Kendra Bulgrin and Jimmy Eddings, whose son, Everett, was born into the fight of his life.
"We know how it is to experience hardships while our son goes through surgeries and battles," Bulgrin said.
Everett was born in December 2010 in Topeka, Kansas, and the heart murmur was diagnosed a week later. His atrial and ventricle septal defects were discovered at Kansas City Children's Hospital before the family moved to Wisconsin.
Just a year after his birth, Everett was already having open-heart surgery at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin.
During this time, Bulgrin and Eddings stayed four nights at the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Eastern Wisconsin in Milwaukee.
With homemade meals and overwhelming support from the community, the family pulled through this difficult time and Everett survived. Now, Bulgrin and Eddings want to give back to individuals facing similar hardships.
They founded Everett's Mugs, an organization that raises awareness of congenital heart defects, autism and chromosome disorders by distributing handmade mugs decorated by children.
The organization plans to donate the mugs to various Ronald McDonald Houses to be given to families in need.
"When we stayed at the Ronald McDonald House, the amount of support was amazing. We want to support that effort," Bulgrin said.
Bulgrin and Eddings came up with the idea in the spring of 2013, when Everett was diagnosed with autism and a rare genetic chromosomal deletion.
"Everett's Mugs marries our love of art with the love we share for our children," Bulgrin said. "When we get tired or lazy, we look at Everett and know we need to keep going, to keep pushing forward."
Bulgrin and Eddings met as undergraduate students at UW-Whitewater, and earned their bachelor's degrees in 2005. Bulgrin obtained her Master of Fine Arts at the Memphis College of Art in 2007, and Eddings received his MFA at the University of Kansas in 2009.
Both taught at UW-Whitewater during the 2012-13 academic year. When students in Advanced Ceramics heard about Everett's Mugs, they jumped at the chance to help. They donated more than 100 mugs to the organization.
Natalie Goebel, a senior pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts, says she is more than happy to donate her time to such a great cause.
"Everett's Mugs is such a great project because it incorporates a love for the handmade with an amazing effort to raise awareness," Goebel said. "I am proud to have been a part of it."
When Bulgrin and Eddings are not working on the project, they are supporting Everett and their second child, Forrest.
Eddings works in construction, and the couple is hoping to eventually open an art gallery.
"We want to get out into the community more," Eddings said. "We hope to provide workshops for kids with special needs and continue to work on Everett's Mugs."
The couple is holding an online fundraiser that has raised $3,785 as of Aug. 4.
While the organization continues to grow, so does Everett.
With therapy twice a week and school four times a week, he continues to inspire others.
"Everett's doing amazing, he's talking and blossoming more so than ever," Eddings said. "We still spend a lot of time at the Children's Hospital of Wisconsin and are reminded every day of how precious life and all of the smaller things are."
"He's our little hero," Bulgrin said. "All we can do for him is to stay positive and continue to move forward."
-- Written by Jonathan Fera, photos submitted