Peyton Tuthill Foundation finds hope and renewal amid heartbreak

The Peyton Tuthill Foundation aims to support children who have had their lives shattered by the loss of a parent or sibling to homicide by providing scholarships and a support network for these young survivors. The foundation emerged out of Peyton’s tragic death at the hands of a violent offender, who brutally assaulted and killed her. Peyton was involved in many charitable organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, the American Cancer Society, and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, and was active in mentoring children. The Peyton Tuthill Foundation has continued Peyton’s legacy of helping others through its scholarship programs, which have helped many find stability and opportunity despite their loss.

The foundation believes that young survivors have a right to be heard by the criminal justice system. They also have a right to be notified about the status of their offender – a belief that is supported by its partnership with Appriss Insights, whose VINE solution provides timely notifications to victims and concerned citizens. The Peyton Tuthill Foundation and VINE both emerged from tragedy and have made it their mission to build a safer, more informed society for victims.

Appriss Insights is sponsoring the Peyton Tuthill Foundation’s Annual Wine and Cheese Tasting event, which will be held on September 23 in Tallahassee, Florida. The foundation was started by Pat Tuthill, Peyton’s mother, who has provided training to criminal justice agencies, judges, and policy makers while fighting for a stronger Interstate Compact in all 50 states.

Pat Tuthill took some time to speak with Appriss Insights about the Peyton Tuthill Foundation, its mission, and the upcoming event.

What is the mission of the Peyton Tuthill Foundation?

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Peyton Tuthill

The mission is to embrace and love victims and advocate for their rights. In particular, these victims have a right to notification at every step of the process in order to help them and/or their families be safe. We also provide scholarships to children who have lost a parent, both parents, or brothers or sisters to murder or homicide

In doing some of my advocacy for public safety, traveling across the country, I've met thousands of victims. It became clear to me what I could do to really impact their lives, because I have learned that children are usually forgotten about in the aftermath of homicide. The headlines fade, and everybody forgets the story, and forgets about them.

How did the Peyton Tuthill Foundation get started?

I knew I wanted to do something that would embrace victims and help them directly, so I founded the Peyton Tuthill Foundation in 2005. My mission wasn't clear at the time, but by 2007, I was putting together thoughts for creating the foundation as a charity to provide help directly to victims.

So, I created the foundation and had my first fundraiser in August 2008. I called my friends and I said, "Everybody start cooking! We're doing a fundraiser." I contributed about $2,000 and had enough to award our scholarship, which was awarded to a young lady named Ashley. She had lost her brother to homicide.

What are some of the most significant benefits of the foundation?

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Pat Tuthill

The one thing about the foundation we do, one of the biggest benefits, is that I have been able, and recipients have been able, to create a support network and network these kids together. People do not feel safe to share what happened – especially in domestic abuse homicides – they are very embarrassed and ashamed. They have no one to talk to. They have some brief counseling, but they don't have anyone they can just talk to in the middle of the day, in the middle of the night, seven days a week.

I became that resource for them, and I connected them to others. One thing I've learned is that it is often easier for survivors or victims to talk to someone they barely know. When you share with a close friend and family member, if they start crying, you worry about them, and then you're trying to comfort them. But sometimes, victims need to be with someone who can just listen. By connecting the kids to each other, one thing that everybody gained was having another person who has been through a very similar experience and understands the uniqueness of their situation. This was an unintended gift that has served so many of these kids in helping them re-build and re-claim their lives.

What kinds of children receive these scholarships? 

We are a trauma-informed foundation. The GPA requirement is 2.5 to receive a scholarship. It doesn't mean they couldn't have been a 4.0 student, but they've been traumatized, and there are all sorts of things that go with that trauma – inability to focus, difficulty concentrating, are regularly being triggered, and in many cases, their academics suffer.

We now have about 20 graduates who have received the scholarships for three to four years. At the beginning, everybody received $1,000, and I wanted that number to go up. I wanted to help them in bigger ways, because many of them are working two and three jobs, and $1,000 doesn’t make a big impact.

So now when they're seniors (and Appriss has helped accomplish this), the foundation can give them $2,000, and when they're juniors, their scholarship can be $1,500. My goal is to try to get those scholarships up to $3,000 the first year, then $5,000, $8,000, and $10,000 for seniors. Their grades? They're no longer 2.5 students. They're 3.5 or higher.

These graduates are now active in all walks of life. We now have three attorneys that have all graduated. One is getting ready to become a physician’s assistant, and another another a physical therapist. We also have an environmental program manager, a wildlife biologist, teachers, human resources professionals, nurses. One getting ready to become a behavioral therapist. I could go on and on!

The Peyton Tuthill Foundation is blind, and by that I mean we don't care what race, what ethnicity, what religion, what tribe you're from. It doesn't matter, because when you're victimized, traumatized, and hurt, you need help. That's what we're here for. It's called the Hearts of Hope scholarship, because they're reclaiming their life. They have to re-gain some faith in people, trust in people, and have hope. Hope is the one thing I've learned that keeps all of us going. It's our thread of connection.

How has the Wine and Cheese Tasting event supported your mission over the years, and how did it get started?

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A previous Wine and Cheese Tasting event

My first event was August 2008, with a group of friends at a little restaurant. The second year, we had the event the same place, and by the third year, we had outgrown the venue. We outgrew the place, and I moved to another venue. The fourth year, we outgrew that. About five years ago, a small, family-run foundation found the Peyton Tuthill Foundation, and learned of our mission and gifted us with $15,000. That was enough to really inspire me to know that I could sustain the event, grow it larger, and keep it there when I no longer can actively run it.

Now we're at the 11th annual Wine and Cheese Tasting Event. Had it not been for COVID last year, it would be the 12th. Last year we did the "So Sorry" campaign, however, and had some wonderful properties that were donated so people could get on weekend getaways, or drive-to types of things. Through sponsorships like Appriss, we were able to at least fund half of that, which helped tremendously. Now we're up to $120,000 awarded. Next year, I'll be looking at awarding hopefully another $25,000.

How will this year's event be different from years past, and how you're approaching the challenge of holding an event like this during COVID-19?

It was a challenge, and I wasn't sure we would be able to have it. My demographic for the event is generally a more at-risk demographic – most attendees are 50 and older. I've had support in helping me put the event together from people at Department of Corrections, who really love and support our mission, so there are a lot of individuals that will come to the event. I work with the parole commission, the sheriff's office, our police department, other businesses. Their sponsorships provide a tremendous amount of opportunity and help sustain the foundation. Without that, the foundation would not be where it is now.

This year, I am having it at the same venue, a country club. We had to change the entire layout. We have it now where we're having it both indoors and outdoors. Everybody will be very socially distanced and masked. Our volunteers will be masked, plus have face shields. To help people with the bidding because it's going to be different, and it can be challenging at first to do the online thing, we'll have volunteers behind plexiglass where they can direct people and help them set up their phones.

I also have three scholarship recipients that are going to be involved – three at the event and another three that I'm doing a Zoom video with Saturday because they love being able to thank everybody. And it's the generosity and support of so many that makes this all possible.

Thanks to Pat for spending some time to help us get to know her and the Peyton Tuthill Foundation better! You can learn more about the foundation, their scholarships for students, and their Wine and Cheese Tasting event at their website.

Karen Adams

Author

Karen Adams

Karen Adams serves as Training Manager with Appriss Insights, where she educates crime victims, service providers, advocates, law enforcement, and criminal justice professionals about technology solutions including VINE (Victim Information and Notification Everyday) and other issues related to victim safety. In addition to a combined 30 years of experience as an administrator, trainer, facilitator, and mediator, Adams is certified as an ATD Master Trainer and holds a master’s in Management and Leadership from Webster University School of Business and Technology, and undergraduate degrees in Management and Applied Science from the University of Louisville School of Business. As a proud Louisvillian, Karen resides in Kentucky, the Bluegrass state, and has a heartfelt connection to family and friends.

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