Marley's Mission's Blue Ribbon Gala- The Remembering Zachary Award 2016

The Blue Ribbon Gala is a magical night. It is my absolute honor to attend each year. So many people come together to support Marley's Mission and their vision. I always look forward to spending the night with fabulous people. This year was even more special. My daughter was old enough to attend and she got to present the Remembering Zachary Award with me to a very special man.

My daughter and I

My daughter and I

I know the Gala is about the Mission, but I begin to feel extra excitement for the night because for me, a small part of it is in remembrance of Zachary. I proudly get ready, feeling like I'm about to have a special night with Zach. Marley's Mission has given me something so special to look forward to year after year. It comes at the right time too. Zachary's birthday is always just weeks away. I remember back to the very first gala. I was full of nerves. I cried most of the night. I was so happy to know I was going to be receiving the Remembering Zachary Award, but I was so nervous about it. I was only starting my journey then. I just started to speak out in his memory. I was still afraid of how I'd be received or who would truly care. Often bereaved parents live a life on the fence. We can be happy, but are always teetering on sadness.

Every year after, my best friend Mandy makes sure to attend the gala with me. It helps so much and I love that she's part of the tradition, as well as her parents. This year I was thrilled to also be able to share it with Kim and her husband. Kim is one of the kindest people you'd ever meet. She's the one who has given me the gift of her amazing photography, and my favorite images of Zachary. As I sat at our table this year, it was the first year that I was completely surrounded by people I loved and people who knew my heart. I'm not sure how much they realized just how much it meant to me.

It was clear as the night went on, just how far I've come. I recognized face after face, and we talked about Zachary, or Zachary's Way. I was also introduced to some fantastic people who already knew who I was or had heard about Zachary. That still blows my mind. My heart was full. My eyes are starting to open up and I'm beginning to see that Zachary has touched the hearts of so many people. Not only am I accepted, I'm supported and cared about. My journey is proof that when you put yourself out there and open up, good things happen.

The big moment of the night came. Gene announced the awards one by one, and one by one, all of the people came up to accept them. The last award is always Zachary's. Gene called McKenzy and I up to present the award to this year's recipient, Lackawanna County Detective, Chris Kolcharno. Gene said a few words, I can never tell you what they were because emotion always overcomes me. Especially this night. Kenzy started crying and then I started crying. Crying is okay. They were tears of sadness and joy. Having Kenzy, all grown up by my side was meaningful. Add to it the fact that we were both giving the award to Chris was powerful. Nearly 11 years ago, Detective Kolcharno was one of the lead investigators in Zachary's case. He knew me then and a very little Kenzy. To be able to honor him, in Zachary's name was something I'll always remember. I am thankful that he accepted the award and I am certain that it was just as special to him as it was to me. He cares so much about what he does and it's his passion to help protect children and seek justice in their honor. He travels the country educating other law enforcement officers about crimes against children. He's shared with me that when he gets the opportunity he talks about Zachary and some of the positive things done in his memory. I have always considered Chris someone who is a part of Zachary's family, but having this award makes it official. It means so much to me that the people who were part of this nearly 11 years ago, are still around to see that we are doing okay. I want Chris to know that he has impacted my life in a positive way and I know I am who I am today because of the continued, collective support I receive. I cherish the times I get to speak to him and his wife, Karen.

Here's looking ahead to another great year!