Carl Vuillaume spent his life having fun. The 16-year-old acted
in school plays, participated in band, played sports, relished
books and wrote on a regular basis. He lived by the catchphrase:
In 2005, he drowned while vacationing with his family in
His parents, Robert and Charleen Vuillaume of Darien, keep his
memory alive through The Gift of Carl Foundation.
The public charity provides Chicago area children who otherwise
could not afford it the opportunity to experience theater,
literature, music and the outdoors.
The money raised helps fund college scholarships for thespians
and grants for theater programs, refurbished instruments and music
lessons, literary festivals, Arbor Day celebrations and
Charleen, a financial analyst, and Robert, a director of
manufacturing, are joined on the foundation's board of directors by
their children, Dan, 26, an actor, and Renee, 24, a Peace Corps
Chicago Parent recently spoke to the Vuillaumes about their
How did you set aside your grief and launch this foundation?
Robert: I don't think you ever set aside your grief. The
outpouring of support from the local community when Carl died was
overwhelming. We created the foundation to give back and say thanks
for all the help we received during that time.
Charleen: Every day is difficult. When you are busy, you channel
your grief and see the positive that comes from the foundation. And
you feel like Carl is here. Everything is in his memory, his honor
and his name. It makes you want to continue.
What surprised you most about running a foundation?
Robert: How generous people can be. Deep down inside, most
people are good and always willing to pitch in and do
How did it feel to be named the 2012 Darien Citizens of the
Charleen: A lot of mixed emotions. We're doing it for Carl, for
his memory. (The honor) was an added bonus.
Do you plan to expand the foundation?
Robert: We're happy with the standing programs. They keep us
busy. We like the idea of being able to hold back money to help out
at the spur of the moment with instruments, grants, band trips,
outdoor education. Those are the feel-good things we do throughout
What has the foundation done for you?
Robert: It allowed us to move forward, in a positive way, after
Carl died. We knew we were doing good things. We knew we would get
support. And it's been tremendous, all along, in getting through
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