Katie Cantrell ’23 and her sister, Scout, had always thought of themselves as soulmates. From the moment Scout was born, three years Katie’s junior, the two shared a remarkable bond. Wherever one of them went, the other followed. Their parents, Felicity and Tony, would often refer to the inseparable pair as “Skate,” combining their names since one was rarely found without the other.
Growing up, the sisters not only shared a strong bond but also were very similar. Both girls were swimmers, shared a mutual love of and passion for giving back to their community, and embodied the qualities of selflessness and inclusivity.
“Katie has been very inclusive since she was a child,” Felicity said. “I remember in preschool, when she was just three years old, there was a new boy in the class. He was a refugee from Iran, and no one had befriended him. The teacher told us that Katie played with him and made sure he was included. They told us that this little boy was going to transition well because of Katie.”
“Scout never wanted anyone to be left out,” added Katie. “She would see someone sitting alone at lunch and invite them to join her. If someone was picked last for gym class, the next day she would be sure they were chosen first."
"She always said she ‘wanted to make the world a little bit better place.’”
A few months after Scout died, Team Cantrell kept thinking there was more to Scout’s life than for it to end when she physically left the world. They wanted to honor her in a way that would recognize all of those who had supported the family through this tragedy.
“We had something really terrible and tragic happen to us,” said Katie. “We thought, we can let it get the best of us, or we can make something really beautiful out of it and ensure that Scout is still very much a part of our community and our everyday lives.”
With this in mind, the Cantrells created the For Scout Foundation, with the goal and mission “to make the world a little bit better place”; it’s how Scout had lived her life.
The nonprofit foundation hosts several annual events to raise money for causes that Scout was passionate about, such as swimming, music, the arts, and animals.
Its biggest event, the Social for Scout, typically brings in about $50,000 each year. The occasion has raffles and a silent auction and is a way to bring the entire community together to honor Scout.
“This is one of my favorite days of the year,” said Katie. “Our family is so grateful to our community for their constant support, and it is really humbling to see how many people show up to this event each year to honor Scout’s legacy.”
Throughout the years, the foundation has hosted other events to raise money. Katie has helped organized a cross-town swim meet for both the boys’ and girls’ teams in her community. On this day each year, the rival schools come together to honor Scout. They forgo wearing their respective school colors, blue and orange, and instead join together, wearing Scout’s favorite color, pink. This meet typically raises several thousand dollars, with all proceeds benefiting the For Scout Foundation.
Because Scout dreamed of becoming a veterinarian and was always taking in animals, the foundation to date has donated $27,000 to the Anderson Animal Shelter; that money has allowed the shelter to significantly increase the number of animals they rescue and place.
Another area the family decided to support is the local school system, specifically in the arts and music departments in every school in the St. Charles School District.
“Scout played viola, I played cello, and we both loved art,” said Katie. “Music and arts can help so many children for a variety of reasons. We wanted to make sure that no child felt that they couldn’t have the opportunity to do either of these.”
The arts and music program has benefited the most from the For Scout Foundation. In total, the program has received $177,000 toward instruments, equipment, books, and art supplies.
True to Scout’s wish that every child feel included, the foundation donated $10,000 to provide accessible equipment on the playground of Katie and Scout’s elementary school so that all students could participate in recess.
With Scout’s aspiration of becoming an Olympic swimmer, one of the biggest initiatives the family started is the Scout Cantrell Learn to Swim Program (SCLTSP) at their local pool. The program provides financial support for families involved with the local swim team. The Cantrells felt this was an important way to ensure that children were able to participate on the swim team or take swim lessons, regardless of their financial resources.
Katie founded Sensory Cove, an offshoot of the SCLTSP, when she saw a need in her community. This specific program provides free water safety training for children on the spectrum.
The program was inspired by a nonverbal boy named Carter. When he first came to Katie for swim lessons, he hated the water and screamed. By the end of the summer, she had him floating on his back and blowing bubbles.
“That experience highlighted the lack of these programs in my community and the magnitude of what they can do for children like Carter,” said Katie.
“At the time, there were limited water safety program opportunities for children on the spectrum within the state of Illinois. If a child falls into the water and has sensory overload, they won’t know what to do. These are important, life-saving skills.”
A lot of planning and thoughtfulness went into designing this program. Katie scheduled these sessions for Sunday mornings, when the park was closed to other visitors. All of the water distractions in the park were turned off, and no maintenance occurred during these sessions. This was specifically to remove any sensory distractions so kids could focus on just being in the water.
Additionally, Katie made certain that everyone felt included. Because there were several nonverbal children, she created clipboards with over 50 laminated cards that the instructors and children could use to communicate.
“Scout always wanted all of her friends to be included, regardless of their ability,” said Katie. “When creating this program, it was important to me to ensure that our nonverbal children had a voice and could participate equally.”
This program was recognized by the state of Illinois with a “Best of the Best” award and contributed to Katie’s being recognized by her town with the first-ever Youth Impact Award.
Katie hopes to bring the Sensory Cove program to the Middlebury community before she graduates.
Ensuring that everyone is always included is woven into the fabric of who Katie is. So when she visited Middlebury and saw how inclusive, positive, and welcoming the swim team was, she knew it was the place for her.
“My teammates really embody some of Scout’s greatest characteristics, whether they know it or not,” said Katie. “Everyone is always there to support each other and make the world a little bit better place by being the best versions of themselves.”
Katie’s adjustment to Middlebury as a first-year was seamless because of the inclusive environment on her team. Her teammates learned about Scout and supported Katie. They became an instant family for her.
Katie came across the Community Friends program during her first year and knew it was the perfect fit for her to give back to the community that had already become a second home to her. The Middlebury program matches students with children ages 6 to 12 in Addison County for one-on-one mentoring. Last fall, Katie was matched with a seven-year-old boy.
“The mentorship has been a two-way relationship,” said Katie. “I feel that I have learned just as much from my mentee as he has from me.”
Katie understands the impact one child can have on an entire community.