Dakota's gift helps families in the community

Eau Claire, WI (WEAU) -- An area man who lost his son to cerebral palsy is remembering his son by helping other special needs families and those dealing with loss.

Mark Harnisch lost his son, Dakota, nearly 10 years ago. Now, for the anniversary of Dakota’s 18th birthday, he's holding an event in his memory, in hopes of bringing together families who've experienced similar losses and struggles.

Harnisch says, "It's just a way to keep his memory alive, there's nothing worse than losing a child and for everyone just to know a little piece of him sure does help us.”

Harnisch is determined to use Dakota's memory to help heal others.

"Cody would have been 18 yesterday. He passed away from complications from cerebral palsy. We just decided as a treat for his birthday to put on an event just to help other kids out. We opened it up, to special need children or children who have been through loss. One of the girls here has lost her father," said Harnisch.

That little girl, Chanel Erickson, and grandmother Ruth Erickson find the event therapeutic.

Ruth says, "It brings some healing and it's a wonderful event for everyone who's here. Not only for us, for our loss, but for the special needs kids who come."

Arla Falk and daughter Kathy feel the same. Falk says, "You're around other people that actually understand, and get it. What it's like to raise a child with special needs 24/7."

But despite the challenges of raising a child with special needs, Falk says, "I would not trade my child for anything in the world, she has taught me so much about patience and unconditional love."

Harnisch says they'll be collecting money through ticket sales for activities, the proceeds will go to Danica Uetz, a young girl with leukemia from Menomonie.

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