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NC man starts Zahra foundation

December 29, 2010

Jim Julian never met Zahra Baker.

In fact, Julian, 53, of Stanfield, lives three hours away from Hickory, where Zahra lived for a few months of her brief life.

Despite the distance, Zahra's story touched Julian. He created the Zahra Clare Baker Memorial Foundation to honor Zahra's memory and help children, like her, who overcame tremendous life challenges.

"I felt like I wouldn't be much of a human being if I just swept this under the rug," he said.

Julian, like people worldwide, followed the story of the 10-year-old Australia native who battled and beat cancer twice. He watched as disturbing reports of abuse, neglect and dismemberment unfolded in international media, and he knew he had to do something.

"It broke my heart," he said. "I think it broke everyone's heart."

Julian's first idea was to rename a Hickory park in Zahra's honor. It doesn't matter which park, he said, as long as it's in Zahra's name.

"We'll have it where ever people will let us," he said.

The process to rename a city park includes compiling a list of 50 signatures. Another important signature Julian needs is from one of Zahra's parents. He is attempting to contact Zahra's biological mother, Emily Deitrich, for permission to rename a park in Zahra's honor.

Supportive residents from across the country jumped on the bandwagon, and they volunteered to donate items to create a special sitting area in the park, if and when it is renamed.

Julian hopes the sitting area will be a place for quiet reflection, complete with a bench and carefully manicured plants.

Companies in California and Monroe volunteered to donate to the project, and Lisa Galyen, of Illinois, helped design the foundation's Facebook page. Other people said they wanted to volunteer their time making Julian's dream a reality.

"I just think there's a lot of people touched (by Zahra), and she just accomplished a lot during her life," Julian said.

Julian's goal to honor Zahra eventually evolved into another project -- a nonprofit organization to benefit children in need.

Julian submitted paperwork to legitimize The Zahra Clare Baker Memorial Foundation. He is creating a website, www.friendsofzahrabaker.com, which will eventually be capable of accepting donations online to the fund.

Julian said he wants to use the memorial fund to help children in any way possible -- especially those children affected by cancer and other disabilities.

The website isn't up and running, but the foundation's Facebook page is available.

The Zahra Clare Memorial Foundation Facebook page was "liked" by more than 50 people and is already an active discussion forum for Zahra's supporters.

"Thanks to people like Jim (Julian) and everyone else who helped (the Facebook page)," one Facebook user wrote, "the world may not be such a terrible place for kids that have no one to look out for them. That is what we can do. Help out the kids that need it."

Other Facebook users express their sympathy for Zahra and their desire to stop violence against children. Julian encourages anyone interested in the foundation to visit the Facebook page for more information.

"We're going to take a journey with Zahra," he said. "We're going to start right now."

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