WHEELING - Chaz Blankenship said he was so distraught after his sister Ashley was murdered in September 2009, he was barely able to function. Nearly three years later, he is forming the Ashley Blankenship Foundation in honor of his sister to provide relief to those experiencing crisis.
Ashley Blankenship was 19 years old when she was fatally shot in a North Park Apartment in September 2009. Jarell Hurt pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 10 to 40 years in prison.
Chaz Blankenship was leading a successful life prior to Ashley's murder. He was operating a thriving landscaping business while also working part-time at River City restaurant. He was devastated when his sister's life was cut short, however, and every day became a struggle.
Chaz Blankenship is shown next to the gravesite of his sister, Ashley, who was murdered in September 2009. Blankenship is forming a foundation in Ashley’s honor.
His sociable personality quickly changed, he said, and it became difficult to trust anyone. Unable to operate his business any longer and without an income, Blankenship soon had his home utilities cut off.
Blankenship said agencies like the West Virginia Crimes Victims Program were able to provide some assistance. Where those agencies fall short however, he said he wants the Ashley Blankenship Foundation to be there to help.
"I whole-heartedly feel that one of the best healing processes - the best thing I can do - is help people," Blankenship said. "I can't think of anything else I'd want to do with my time. If I can help just a few people, it'll be worth while - just to make it a little lighter on a few people."
Blankenship found the first beneficiary just a few houses down the street from his home. Crystal France's son, Michael, was diagnosed with cytomegalovirus when he was 3 years old.
The virus has rendered him unable to speak or walk and he is deaf in one ear. Michael will turn 5 years old on Thursday, but Crystal France says has the learning capacity of an 18-month-old.
Birth to Three provided Michael with braces that helped him stand, but he ultimately outgrew them, France said. She has been trying to obtain a new set of braces for more than a year now, but said insurance will not cover the $3,000 bill. Constantly seated, France said doctors are worried her son's legs and hips are weakening rapidly.
"We're really hopeful, that with right equipment and therapy, one day he'll be able to walk," France said.
As the first act of The Ashley Blankenship Foundation, Chaz Blankenship has organized a benefit for Michael, which will take place at 9 p.m. Aug. 2 at River City, 14th and Main streets. The cost of attendance is $10, and Blankenship said there will be music, food, door prizes and gift baskets.
While waiting to receive non-profit status, Blankenship said he will continue to organize benefits for those is need. He is also organizing a board of directors to oversee the Ashley Blankenship Foundation, he noted.
"I'm sure there are people out there who are as passionate about this as I am," Blankenship said.