Henry Vernon isn’t a stranger to life’s hard knocks.
Two years back, the 14-year-old Caswell County native lost his mother Tina to leukemia.
During her battle, Vernon — then 12 — stayed by his mother’s side, helping make sure she was comfortable. In that time, he came to know Duke University Medical Center and it’s Triangle like the back of his hand.
His time spent with his mother gave him a look at life that most people don’t see at 12 and while the burden would’ve folded most his age, Vernon pitched his tent after his mother’s death, keeping her charitable spirit alive.
Tina was known throughout Caswell for her giving nature as she taught at Sunday School and was a volunteer substitute teacher.
While she was known for turning few down, despite their ages, her real passion was in helping children.
“One of her big things was that she loved kids,” Vernon said. “Anything that had to do with helping kids, she was there.”
Tina’s favorite charity was the Ronald McDonald House, whose stated mission is “to create, find and support programs that directly improve the health and well-being of children. One of the ways the foundation accomplishes its goal, is by providing free housing for families who are facing a long stay in the hospital with their loved ones. Something the Vernon’s, including Henry, were all too familiar with.
“I know how it is staying away from home in a hospital,” Vernon said. “It’s not fun to stay in a hospital and it gets expensive sometimes when you’re loved one is the hospital for two, three weeks, at a time.”
Driven by his mom’s propensity for the charity along with her charitable spirit, Vernon decided the best way to keep her memory alive was for him to get involved with the Ronald McDonald House — helping families and their children.
“That was one of her big things, the Ronald McDonald House, because it helped a whole lot of kids who needed things,” Vernon said. “I really appreciate the things my mom did and I’m just trying to continue them.”
Not long after Tina’s death, Vernon and his family started Tina’s Tabs. An effort to help raise money for his mom’s favorite charity by collecting aluminum soda and soup cans lids.
Walk into several businesses and stores in Caswell — including Yanceyville’s Farm Bureau Branch — and you’ll see large metal buckets full of tabs. That’s Vernon.
“I’ve tried to continue putting things up in different places of business and just trying to get a lot of different people to collect them,” Vernon said. “A lot of the farmers, a lot of the workers, used canned drinks so you can get them and it put it out there for people.”
Vernon takes each one of the buckets along with the tabs and sends them back to the Ronald McDonald House who then re-distributes the money to help those in need.
“When you give them these tabs, it helps pay for housing and they can stay there as long as they want when their child or loved one is in the hospital and they need to stay,” Vernon said.
The Vernon’s have had the blessing of seeing their efforts payoff first hand within their own community.
Last year, Vernon made a charitable donation in his mom’s memory. Unbeknownst to him, the money ended up going to the Ronald McDonald House, where it benefited a local Caswell family.
There was a boy at the Vernon’s church with an eating disability that required him to be fed through a feeding tube. Months later, the Yanceyville branch of Farm Bureau received a letter from the family thanking them for their help.
“As it turned out, this kid is in Henry’s Sunday School class and it kind of came full circle,” said Henry’s father, William. “When you see where it’s going and it’s going to people you know, that’s what it’s all about and what makes it worth it.”
Tina’s charitable spirit has made Henry’s quest a bit easier.
“A lot of these people I go out to, my mom knew a lot of them and when I told them what I was doing, they were kind of surprised,” chuckled Henry. “And when I would tell them I was her son, they were willing to help me out with it and were very gracious and supportive of what I was doing.”
Having gone through so much at a young age, has indelibly changed Vernon’s life and lent him his giving spirit. Along with his work with Tina’s Tabs, he also volunteers at the Yanceyville Fire Department.
He’s also a bit of a mentor as well, using his own experiences to help those going through hard times.
“I do know where people having a hard time are coming from,” said Vernon. “I do understand that it’s hard but I do know it will get better. It might get worse before it gets better, but it will.”
“I am willing to talk to anybody about anything because I know how it is to hold it all in and it isn’t good for you, so I just want to help people get it out.”
“He’s an old soul,” William said, concluding with a chuckle.