His Smile Unites Us
Have you ever known someone with a truly contagious smile who captures the adoration of passersby and provokes them to return the joyous gesture? For Marie and Tim Kuck, it was their son Nathaniel. “I think one of the things that stands out most was his smile. Though he couldn’t communicate the way typical children his age would, when he smiled, he just lit up a room. And you know, that really impacted us—how he was still able to communicate,” recalls Marie.
“We believe as we honor these families, we honor God. And in doing so, we make God smile.” - Tim Kuck
Communication was a major feat for Nathaniel, born prematurely on June 6, 1997, with multiple major birth anomalies, including duodenal atresia and craniosynostosis. From the moment he came into this world, surgeries, therapies, illness and hospital stays became a normal part of life for him and his family. For nearly five years, Nathaniel overcame the odds and physical challenges that compromised his growth and overall health—but on November 13, 2001, his condition became too great to endure, and Nathaniel returned to his creator.
Through it all, Marie, Tim and Nathaniel’s two sisters, Brianna and Ashley, embraced each challenge with the kind of affection and tenacity that only a tight-knit family can sustain. Through his passing, they understood his purpose was to bring that support to others experiencing similar challenges. Founded in 2002 by Marie and Tim, Nathaniel’s Hope is dedicated to sharing hope with special-needs children and their families through various community programs and initiatives. Programs are designed to reduce stress for these children and their families, share encouragement, and provide education to empower individuals in the community to help those in need.
Nathaniel's Hope is dedicated to sharing hope with special-needs children and their families through various community programs and initiatives.
One such program is the annual Make ‘m Smile event, a community festival that celebrates special-needs kids (referred to as VIPs) and their families, held each year at Lake Eola in downtown Orlando on or around Nathaniel’s birthday. Bringing together community leaders and supporters of the special-needs community, the make ‘m Smile event has been gaining steady momentum in its nine short years of existence. Orange County Mayor Theresa Jacobs and the city of Orlando commissioner Samuel Ings designated June 4 as Make ‘m Smile Day.
This past year was their biggest event yet, with more than 7,500 people participating in the Friendship Stroll where VIP kids with their families were buddied up with people from the community to engage in fun and friendship. More than 350 volunteers showed their support, with corporate sponsors offering free food and drinks, theme park partners providing characters and entertainment, and nearly 100 exhibitors. AdventHealth was again honored to be part of this unique and vital service to the community, providing financial support and volunteers—including crowd favorite Buddy the Bear.
“We’re privileged to be able to hold this festival to honor these families,” adds Tim. “We believe as we honor these families, we honor God. And in doing so, we make God smile.” It also shows that Nathaniel’s contagious smile is just as powerful in Heaven as it was here on earth.
For additional information about Nathaniel's Hope, please visit NathenielsHope.org.