Nobody should have had to go through what the McMorris family did.
Yet, there are very few families that could have turned around and offered up a chance of hope, and an effort to give back.
Alisa and John McMorris were there in the hospital with their 12-year-old son, Andrew, as he passed from injuries received by an alleged drunk driver while on a hike with his Boy Scout troop in 2018. The family’s names have appeared in the news every week as of late, as the trial against the driver progressed.
Yet their names have also appeared in the news for other reasons. The family has started a foundation in the name of Andrew which has raised money for the local school district and drunk driving advocacy groups. They have shown staunch support for nonprofit advocacy groups Mothers Against Drunk Driving and Students Against Destructive Decisions.
Through fundraisers and other community efforts, the Andrew McMorris Foundation has raised thousands for Boy Scouts of America, their own Troop 161, the school district, along with MADD and other organizations that look to stem the tide of drunk driving. This year, Alisa stood next to U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) in supporting bills to crack down on drunk and impaired driving, and the parents stood alongside MADD arguing to lower the blood alcohol limit for drunk drivers from 0.08 percent to 0.05 percent.
The Shoreham-Wading River community has become so known to tragedy, but for those who live in the two interconnected hamlets, mourning has become an act of compassion and activism. As was the case of the Cutinella family, whose son Thomas died after another player struck his head during a football game, and for the family of Melissa Marchese, an 18-year-old Shoreham resident who died in a car crash earlier this year. Tom and Kelli Cutinella were honored by TBR News Media as People of the Year in 2017 for the work with the foundation named after Thomas.
“They sing Andrew’s song with their advocacy — make an impact and change the world as if he were here today.”
– Kelli Cutinella
Kelli Cutinella said she and her husband had known Alisa and John for years, but they had reached out to the McMorris family after their loss, looking to offer any help they may have needed. Kelli soon came to see their “strength and courage,” witnessing the McMorris clan create their own foundation much in the same way the Cutinellas created theirs. She added that after such a loss, one never truly gets closure, but it lets one move in another direction — toward meaningful change.
“When you lose your child, you feel very alone,” Kelli said. “They sing Andrew’s song with their advocacy — make an impact and change the world as if he were here today.”
Last year, the McMorris foundation granted two scholarships worth $750 each to graduating SWR high school students in Andrew’s honor.
Superintendent Gerard Poole and SWR school board president, Michael Lewis, said the McMorris family has long been active in the district for years, with Alisa having been a PTA leader and member of the legislative and bond committees. Poole said she had been instrumental in setting up a trip for students to Albany to advocate. Her advocacy led to the resurrection of a SADD club as well.
“The McMorris family has been incredibly active, supporting student programs,” Poole said. Alisa’s “been just a great part of the school community — involved in every aspect.”
John McMorris is an assistant scoutmaster with Boy Scout Troop 161, where Andrew had been an active and enthusiastic member. Jane Sherman, the committee chair of Troop 161, called the McMorrises one of the strongest couples she knows for taking their personal tragedy and then “looking out for the community.”
She said the McMorris foundation has already had several successful fundraising events, both from the community and internally, including a gala in September. The gala and other events have raised money for a new cabin in the Baiting Hollow Scout Camp named McMorris Lodge in honor of Andrew. The outside of the cabin is nearly fully complete, and most of the work is continuing on the inside of the shell.
“They’ve had such vision, and every day they’re knocking down goalposts,” Sherman said.
But this is only the beginning, the Troop 161 committee chair said. As fundraising continues, and as the foundation builds more support, there are plans to produce scholarship for not just SWR, but the Riverhead and Miller Place school districts as well. John McMorris works as a guidance counselor at Miller Place.
“Scholarships for science, aviation, music, everything that Andrew loved,” Sherman said. “They’re just tremendous, not just by themselves, but getting people together to work for a cause.”