In Henry’s final days, as it became clearer to me that he was going to die, I told my husband, brother and sister that I wanted to create a lasting legacy for my son, and for his four younger siblings – the three who were already with us, as well as the littlest, who would be born only 3 weeks after her big brother died. I didn’t know exactly what shape this would take beyond one thing; I wanted to make it easier for families with drug addicted teenagers like Henry to pay for high quality treatment, and I wanted Henry to know this before he was gone.
On the day that Henry died, as I sat on his bed, rubbing his giant teenage-boy feet – still tanned with the criss-cross strap marks from his Chaco sandals, even after 38 days of hospitalization – I told him what I wanted to do in his name. I told him that I hoped he would be proud of the work we would undertake, and that I would make sure that people heard his story because as much as he’d wanted to, no one in authority had cared enough to give him a chance to tell them his story himself before it was too late.
And that’s how Henry’s Fund was born.
Only 20 months later, Henry’s Fund has already accomplished so much. And there’s one person who is responsible for that, and that person is Henry’s aunt and my sister, Betsy Allison Tant.
Henry with his Aunt Betsy
Working thus far with no real office, no staff and no salary, Betsy currently spends 20-50 hours working as Executive Director for Henry’s Fund. She liaisons on behalf of Henry’s Fund with the wonderful East Tennessee Foundation, serves in a leadership role with the Metropolitan Drug Commission, maintains and grows the award-winning Henry’s Fund Facebook page, manages fundraising and grant distribution, speaks to groups large and small all over our area, and spends huge amounts of time on the phone and in person with desperate parents attempting to navigate the health care system in order to quickly get their addicted teens and young adult children into treatment.
Betsy, who has her undergraduate degree in education, as well as her MSW, had worked with at risk children as a teacher before becoming a stay at home mom to her own three children in the years before her beloved firstborn nephew died of a drug overdose. Today, Betsy is combining her professional background with the deep love she had for her nephew, and in her role as te Executive Director of Henry’s Fund, she’s increasingly recognized as one of the most articulate and well-informed voices in our region on issues of adolescent drug addiction and treatment access. I have absolutely no doubt that soon, her insight, advocacy and expertise will be impacting these issues on the national stage.
Betsy at the Henry’s Fund booth at an addiction awareness event.
When she speaks on behalf of Henry’s Fund, Betsy frequently makes clear that she would give anything not to be doing the work that she now does. I know this is true. I know the incredibly special and deep bond shared by Henry and his “Aunt-a B,” as he called her when he was a toddler – from the day he was born until the day he died. She misses him just as much as I do, and he adored her. But I also believe that Betsy was called to do this work. This is her life’s calling, and the career she was meant to have. I know that Henry would be so proud of her, just as all the rest of us who love her are.
Many big “next steps” will be happening for Henry’s Fund in the year ahead, thanks 100 percent to the passionate, strategic, hard working and visionary leadership of one person: Betsy Allison Tant. I’m not entirely sure that people realize how hard Betsy has worked and continues to work to grow and develop Henry’s Fund and its life saving work.
I love you Bets. You were the best auntie imaginable to our boy, and he loved you so very, very much.
I am so inspired by what you’ve accomplished already in his memory. I can’t wait to see what great places you will be taking Henry’s legacy of hope in the months and years ahead.
xoxo – Kate
Henry and Auntie B on a trip to the mountains.