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Student honors crash survivor with donation to college fund

BRANDON — It takes a pretty selfless person to knowingly give up $1,000, no matter how old you are, but seven-year-old Livia Bernhardt didn’t have a problem with it.
The daughter of Hannah Sessions and Greg Bernhardt of Blue Ledge Farm in Leicester was randomly selected to receive $1,000 for her college savings from the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation (VSAC) and the Vermont Department of Libraries (VDOL) in the “Get Creative @ Saving for College” summer reading promotion. Bernhardt was honored at the Brandon Free Library, her hometown library, on Feb. 20 and the library received $500 as part of the promotion.
But the most touching part was when it was revealed how Livia’s family called to see if they could donate her winnings to another child, Jeremiah Popp.
While snowmobiling with his grandparents, aunt, cousin and sister in January, six-year-old Popp, of Brandon, survived crashing through the ice on Lake Dunmore. His three-year-old sister Bryanna died, as did his aunt, Carrie Flynn, 24, and grandfather, Kevin Flynn, 50. An education fund was set up in Popp’s name.
The obituaries of the family members who perished appeared in the same issue of the newspaper as a news item announcing Livia’s winning, Livia’s mother recalled.
“We had a family meeting about it,” Sessions said. “And it was just clear that this was just sort of a windfall and we felt it was the right thing to do.”
Unfortunately, the way the funding was set up, the family was told there was not a way to transfer the $1,000 to Popp. But VSAC went one better. The organization’s director of social marketing, Deborah Unica, made the announcement at the library event.
“That was incredibly generous of Livia,” Unica said. “To honor that generosity of spirit, we are donating another $1,000 to a savings account for Jeremiah Popp. You inspire us all, Livia.”
VSAC and the Vermont Department of Libraries worked with the TIAA-CREF financial services corporation for the promotion. Kathleen Tunson, program marketing director for TIAA-CREF, officiated at the library event.
“Without local libraries, so may people would not have access to the breadth of knowledge and literature,” she said to Brandon Librarian Stephanie Choma at the Feb. 20 event. “And we want to support what you bring to the communities of Vermont.

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