The loss of a child is one of the most tragic experiences anyone ever faces. For Gary Binns, it has been his ongoing effort to make a positive difference in other people's lives that has helped him to deal with the Sept. 11, 2009, death of his son, Marquis Hamilton, from the H1N1 swine flu virus.
Standing in front of a crowd of more than 800 people at the First Baptist Church of Sebring, Binns spoke on a very personal level about his loss and the faith that has grown from it as he gave the 2013 Baccalaureate Address to Marquis' former Sebring High School classmates.
His messages of hope, love, respect and facing obstacles in life with persistence and determination were accepted with tears, cheers and applause.
"When you lose someone close to you, it gives you a boldness to be able to reach out to people. You realize you only get one opportunity in life," said Binns, the owner of G.B. Property Inspection and a youth minister at his church, Wings of Faith Christian Worship Center on Schumacher. "You are not promised the next minute, the next second."
Sitting in the Spring Lakes home he shares with his wife, Fachon, and 9-year-old twin daughters, Kani and Kyrie, Binns recalled that fateful illness almost four years ago that changed his family forever. He said that Marquis came home on a Tuesday with flu-like symptoms. Though he appeared to be doing better on Thursday, that night he took a turn for the worse. Friday, when he was unable to keep down fluids, the decision was made to take him to the hospital.
"It was on our way to the hospital that he stopped breathing," explained Binns, his eyes distant with the memory. Pulling into the Publix parking lot, Binns started CPR as a trucker who saw what was happening placed the 911 call. But emergency workers were unable to revive Marquis.
The week following the heartrending death brought a community together to mourn and remember the popular freshman football player. Binns said that letters of condolences started coming in from all over, a SHS football memorial page allowed classmates to say their goodbyes, and a fund was set up to give financial help to the family, which had no life insurance.
The family was astonished and grateful when within one week more than $7,000 was raised to cover burial expenses.
When an earthquake hit Haiti on Jan. 12, 2010, just months after Marquis' death, Binns felt compelled to help.
The Jamaican native who grew up in South Florida thought his background in construction could be useful. He has made four mission trips with the Haiti Bible Mission, delivering food and supplies and helping to install solar panels on their facility in the city of Jeremie.
"It is really a humbling experience," said Binns, who was shocked by the lack of basic necessities and the sight of orphaned children scavenging in the streets.
Three years ago, Binns took a position on the Board of Youth for Christ, a nonprofit, faith-based group that offers activities and outreach programs. Through Youth for Christ he has had the opportunity to share his inspirational messages with thousands of young people at churches and schools.
"Working with young people is something God has always gifted me to do," said Binns who has 14 years experience volunteering with athletic groups, at-risk-boys, the YMCA and other faith-based organizations. "I was a deacon at our church in Ohio. But when Marquis passed it was like a calling God really laid on my heart to really be an impact on the young people in this community."
Now, the family is doing well and has found their strength "rooted in Christ," said Binns. He added, "You have days where there are tears. Going through this has been the hardest trial . but it has brought us even closer together as a family unit and taught us to appreciate life."