PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

April 4, 2013

Groves remembers spirited girl on 'Avery Day'

Erinn Callahan
The Port Arthur News

GROVES — As Avery Anne Guerra prepared to go to Houston for her second open-heart surgery, she asked her mother, “What are we doing?”

“We need to go get your heart fixed,” Jennifer Guerra told her daughter.

Avery had a thing or two to say to that.

“She put her little hands on her hips and said, ‘OK, I’ll do it, but I’m not going to lay down,’” Guerra remembered with a laugh. “She was going to take it head-on, standing up.”

This came as no surprise to Guerra, as her daughter seldom took anything lying down. Born June 14, 2004, Avery packed more life into four years than most people can manage in 40. And she never allowed herself to be hampered by the congenital heart defect she’d had since birth.

“She traveled to New York and to Disney World,” Guerra said. “We didn’t try to shelter her in any way. We wanted her to do whatever she was able to do. She never complained about being sick or tired.”

When Avery died on July 2, 2008, at age 4, after developing a staph infection, Guerra wasn’t ready to let her little girl go.

“She was just so special,” Guerra said. “We knew that wasn’t the end.”

Far from it. Guerra, along with her husband, Ricky, formed the Avery Anne Guerra Foundation in their daughter’s memory, which provides financial assistance to families who have children with heart defects. In Groves, where Avery grew up and where Guerra lives, Mayor Brad P. Bailey declared April 2, 2009, to be Avery Anne Guerra Day.

“The mayor is the kind of guy who is all for Groves, and he felt that it was the least the city could do to support and bring light to what this little girl went through,” said D.E. Sosa, Groves city manager. “She’s one of ours.”

 Since 2009, Avery Day has been celebrated annually with a fundraiser sponsored by Debbie’s Dance, Etc. And on Saturday, April 6, pink balloons — a personal favorite of Avery’s — will line the streets of Groves for the fifth annual Avery Anne Guerra Day.

The event will be held at Bruce’s Market Basket, 6001 39th Street, Groves, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. The day’s attractions will include a link sale, bake sale, car wash, washerboard tournament, silent auction and a raffle. “Sonny the Clown” will be on hand to visit with all the children.

“It’s a full day,” said Debbie Broussard, owner of Debbie’s Dance and Avery’s grandmother.

New events this year include a dunking booth and performances by the Lamar University Spirit Team and a small Cajun band. And for the third year in a row, LifeShare Blood Center will be on hand for anyone wishing to donate blood in Avery’s honor.

Broussard said it touches her to see people who would normally be apprehensive about giving blood doing so for her granddaughter. In 2011, 80 people donated. In 2012, that number rose to 85 — which has the potential to save at least 240 lives.

“That’s one of the biggest ways it’s grown,” Broussard said. “Not only are we raising money to help people, but there’s people coming out and actually giving the gift of life. The reason they’re doing it is for Avery. Her little life is continuing to live on by helping others.”

Proceeds from the benefit will go towards scholarships for students at Port-Neches Groves, Memorial and Nederland High Schools. Last year, the foundation supplied 10 students with scholarships, at $2,000 each.

Broussard estimated that after this year’s event, the foundation will have raised $100,000. But that figure pales in comparison to the number of lives Avery touched with her own.

“She would just walk into a room and the joy just flowed out of her,” Guerra said. “It spilled out into everybody that she came into contact with.”

Stickers immortalizing Avery can be seen on numerous vehicles all over the Golden Triangle — a pink “A” with angel wings. This has become the official logo of Debbie’s Dance, where Avery served as the unofficial mascot.

“All the children were so affected by losing her,” Broussard said. “They took it really hard, so we came up with this to do. It gives the children a sense of purpose in keeping her memory alive, and they don’t take it lightly. Even the littlest ones will just be working their little heart out that day.”

That includes Guerra’s two children, 2-year-old Amelia and 1-year-old Noah.

“They’ve been at Avery Day since they were born,” Guerra said. “It’s great to teach them about their big sister. She’s very much a part of our lives still.”

Broussard added that the support she and her family have received from the community of Groves is “overwhelming.”

“You can’t even see anything but pink shirts out there in the parking lot,” she said. “I know she would be running around all over the place with those kids and just having a great time.

“That’s what I see when I look in the faces of the children out there having a good time. I see Avery.”

To purchase tickets or a T-shirt, contact Guerra at 409-540-624, or Broussard at 409-543-8090.

Email: ecallahan@panews.com

Twitter: @ErinnPA