HUNTERSVILLE – Like most great stories, the Angels of ’97 website stirs a range of emotions.

On one page, photos of the original “angels” – five teenagers who died during their high school years and would have been members of the North Mecklenburg High School graduating Class of 1997 – drive home the painful reality of the sequence of tragedies that shattered the close-knit community a generation ago.

On another page, a somber list contains the names of more than 80 young people with ties to the area, the organization’s “adopted angels,” who have died in the years since. A click on a name leads to photos and memorial messages, clear indications of the sense of loss linked to each.

But another page provides a different perspective. Filled with more 250 names, it salutes the local students who have earned college scholarships from the nonprofit Angels of ’97 Memorial Scholarship Organization.

That page shows how families and friends found a way to transform grief into goodness, and how Angels of ’97 has sprouted hope from seeds sown in sadness.

And through the simplest of strategies – including an annual spaghetti dinner that returns for its 23rd year this weekend – the organization has kept the memories of young people alive by raising more than $750,000.

Run and noodles

The 23rd annual Angels of ’97 spaghetti dinner, which now also features an appetite-building 5K in the morning, will be held Saturday, March 16, at North Mecklenburg High School. The 5K “Run, Walk, Stroll, Bark” event starts at 9 a.m., with registration beginning at 7 a.m. Cost to participate is $35.

Spaghetti servings in the school cafeteria start at 11 a.m. and continue until 7 p.m. In addition to the all-you-can-eat spaghetti – still just $5 per person – there will also be entertainment, as well as silent and live auction activities. Two silent auctions – 11 a.m.-1 p.m. and 1-4 p.m. – will be held prior to the live auction at 6 p.m.

Proceeds from all events will go to the Angels of ’97 scholarship fund. There will also be opportunities to purchase T-shirts and make donations to the organization. A donation option is also available atwww.angelsof97.com.

Proceeds go toward college scholarships. When the program began, it was exclusively for North Mecklenburg High School students. It has expanded to include Hopewell and Hough high schools as well as all other high schools in the region, including area charter schools.

Complete details about the organization, its history and its honorees are available at www.angelsof97.com.

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