May 8 — Carlee Whitis’ life ended on July 16, 2021, tragically cut short when she was only 19. But Carlee’s voice carries on.
The teenager’s love of singing and her role in the Pulaski County High School Choir inspired a scholarship created in her name. This past Thursday, at the choir’s spring concert, Carlee’s friend and former classmate Parker Sellers became the first recipient of that special honor.
“Carlee Whitis was a fantastic student and an important member of our choir,” said director Meredith Brown. “She was so special. While I could say that about most of my choir students, it ran deep with Carlee. Most mornings of her junior year she would stand with me on my hall duty and talk. She’d fill me in on how sweet her little brother was, friends that were struggling, or a that new crush she had.Sometimes she’d bring me a Baxter’s coffee, and she showed up with a whole cheesecake on my birthday.She was thoughtful and always looking out for others . … She was mature beyond her years. Most importantly, she was genuine in her faith. She held to her convictions and was quick to step up when someone needed prayer or comfort. “
In July of 2021, Carlee and her boyfriend Ethan Carter were seriously injured in a two-vehicle wreck that took place at the intersection of US 27 and Ky. 70. Carlee eventually succumbed to her injuries, but her passing led to an increased push to make that intersection safer, and the Eubank community would come to see her preferred solution of a traffic light finally put in place in January.
Carlee’s mother Dana recalled that following the accident, soccer players at Carlee’s school put her initials “CW” on their cleats and sent the picture to Dana, who was with Carlee as she was fighting for her life in the hospital. “After she passed away, I looked at it and it said, ‘CW’ when I thought about it … I also thought about ‘Christian Walk,'” Dana said. The result was Carlee’s family and friends creating a CW Teen Mission – CW representing both meanings of the initials, Carlee Whitis and Christian Walk – and would establish a $ 500 scholarship to be given every year by the new non-profit organization to a choir student at Pulaski County High School, in honor of Carlee.
Whitis said it was the vision of her friend Penny Rizenbergs of Russell County to create the scholarship.
“Carlee had been a big part of our lives ever since she was born; we spent a lot of time together,” Rizenbergs said. “I was just thinking … what can we do to honor Carlee that’s more than just a temporary thing? Something that will last a little longer and touch people closer to her and help somebody? … I thought (the scholarship) would be something that would please Carlee. “
Whitis said they’ve created a board for the non-profit and will have a golf scramble every year to raise money for the scholarship. They’d like to expand the scholarship to other local schools in the future but started with Pulaski County High School because that’s where Carlee went and participated in the choir. They’d also like to open a teen center in honor of Carlee at some point as well, “to reach all the teens in Pulaski County.”
Braun sent out scholarship applications to all the choir seniors. The only qualifications were being a senior at PCHS and a choir member. Three students applied and filled in an essay, and the board selected Sellers for the first scholarship given in Carlee’s memory.
“It is such a meaningful way to honor Carlee for years to come and is just one of many ways I’ve been so impressed with the Whitis family,” Brown said. ‘I am amazed at how they push themselves to do hard things on behalf of Carlee in hopes that they will be able to help others who are struggling or need Jesus. … This scholarship is just one small aspect of that ministry. ve already been traveling around churches in our community sharing Carlee’s story and seeing teens accept Christ as a result. “
Losing Carlee was hard on her fellow choir students, said Brown, and they found themselves reminded of her often by the songs they had sung together and choir events they shared with her over the years.
“So when we were prepping for our latest concert, Elizabeth Dalton, a junior Chamber Singer asked if we could honor Carlee at our concert. Elizabeth said to me, ‘She was just always the one who stepped up to make sure everyone was included when we were growing up, ” said Brown. ” So we decided on “For Good” from the musical Wicked in her honor. The first verse says: I’ve heard it said / That people come into our lives for a reason / Bringing something we must learn / And we are led / To those who help us most to grow / If we let them / And we help them in return / Well, I don’t know if I believe that’s true / But I know I’m who I am today / Because I knew you … / I have been changed for good.
“It was a perfect fit.”
Dana and Carlee’s family and friends long for the day they can see her again in Heaven, but while on earth, there’s work to be done in Carlee’s name. Whitis told those at Thursday’s concert that Carlee lives on in the lives of others, and Christian Walk and the scholarship that will benefit future musical talents of this area are the means for Carlee to continue making an impact, something that warms her mother’s heart.
“It’s a great honor to me because she loved music. Her passion was music and she influenced a lot of kids,” Whitis said. “(Thursday) was very emotional, but it also gave me a lot of peace and it was a great honor for me to give a scholarship out to one of her good friends in the choir. That was a big part of her life.”