Two Westerville women, inspired to start charities after losing loved ones, have been nominated for the 2011 Jefferson Awards for Public Service.

Two Westerville women, inspired to start charities after losing loved ones, have been nominated for the 2011 Jefferson Awards for Public Service.

Rachel Muha founded the Brian Muha Foundation and the Run the Race Club after her son was murdered more than a decade ago.

Sixteen-year-old Kristen Sellan founded Cuddles for Kristen after losing her grandmother to cancer three years ago.

In 1999, while 18-year-old Brian Muha was in his freshman year of college, his home was broken into. He and a friend were murdered. His mother instantly started the Brian Muha Foundation to raise money for scholarships.

"We founded the foundation in Brian's memory for inner city kids who go to Brian's high school to be able to go to college," Rachel Muha said.

Four years later, Muha founded the Run the Race Club, a one-day-a-week program giving inner city kids a place to go to have a meal and receive positive attention.

"I just felt there was more to do," she said. "There were so many inner city kids who were growing up the way that Brian's killers did - without food or family or love or attention. I just wanted to see what we could do to help."

The day the program launched, one girl showed up, Muha said. Since then, the program has grown to occupy one of Columbus' closed recreation centers, and operates five days a week to accommodate children from preschool to high school.

"One little girl came to our very first gathering. There were two adults and one little girl. I thought, 'If God thinks this is a good thing, he'll spread it. It will spread through the children.' And it has," Muha said.

The program now also does community outreach, helping those in need with things such as rent, food and utilities.

"Through the children, we find out what their needs are at home," Muha said. "It's expanded into a pretty full offering to people in need."

The program is supported through fundraisers, Muha said, and is staffed primarily with volunteers.

She said she believes the program is a fitting way to honor Brian, who wanted to be a doctor working in impoverished, underserved areas.

"Brian was such a good-hearted boy. All you had to do was meet Brian, and he became your best friend. He just loved everyone he met, cared about everyone he met," Muha said. "I just wanted to carry on what Brian wanted to do."

Muha said she also thinks the Run the Race Club and the Brian Muha Foundation are ways to bring some good out of a bad situation.

"Just knowing that something horrible happens, you have a choice. You can either let it destroy you, or you can bring some good out of evil. That's what our Lord tells us to do: Bring good out of evil," she said.

For more information on Muha's charities, visit www.brianmuhafoundation.org.

Sellan's charity sprang from a no-sew fleece blanket she made for her grandmother when she was 13. Her grandma had cancer and spent a lot of time in the hospital.

"She suffered for a long time, and I knew there wasn't really much I could do for her," Sellan said. "She never really complained, except when she was at the hospital. She complained about it being cold."

After Sellan made the blanket, her grandmother took it to all of her hospital stays and radiation treatments.

"She always bragged that her 13-year-old granddaughter made it," Sellan said. "I know it was just a blanket, but seeing the joy she got from it really inspired me to make more for those who are sick."

After her grandmother passed away in March 2008, Sellan was inspired to establish a charity making blankets for those who were sick.

"I really wanted to continue making blankets, and I really wasn't sure where I wanted them to go," she said. "My mom and I went to the Ronald McDonald House in Columbus, and I just fell in love with it."

Sellan began making blankets and delivering a few each month to the Ronald McDonald House. Over the years, her Cuddles for Kristen has grown and has provided 175 blankets to those staying at the Ronald McDonald House.

"I started with just a couple blankets per month, just two or three, but then my project grew," Sellan said. "Every month, my mom and I drive down to the Ronald McDonald House, and I take 10 blankets."

Sellan has gotten others involved in the project, as well. She's made blankets with Girl Scout and Boy Scout troops. She hosted a blanket party for friends at her home and later a public blanket party at the Westerville Public Library.

"I want more teenagers to get involved with it just because the reward itself is great," Sellan said. "I never thought it would grow to be as big as it is today, and I hope it continues to get bigger."

For more information on Cuddles for Kristen, email Sellan at ksellan@yahoo.com.

Of the 20 central Ohioans nominated for Jefferson Awards, five will be named as winners at an April 5 luncheon at the Columbus Museum of Art. ThisWeek Community Newspapers is a sponsor of the awards.