Life has not been easy for Matthew Klug, the Brookwood High School graduate who was selected by the Chicago White Sox in the 2018 MLB Draft. He has endured a childhood filled with heartbreak after losing several loved ones close to him.
Matthew’s mother, Julie, battled chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and emphysema throughout his early life. For those not familiar with the disease, it restricts airflow to the lungs and makes it difficult for a person to breathe. “My only memories of [my mother] include the oxygen tube that she had to have in her nose 24/7 to help her breathe,” Matthew said. As if this was not already enough for the Klug family, Matthew’s father started battling a serious illness of his own.
In October 2010, Jeffrey Klug found out that he had been diagnosed with cancer. Despite the discovery, it appeared that things were actually looking up just a few months later. “He had a stem-cell transplant in May of 2011,” Matt explained, “and for the most part, the cancer left for a while.” This was a relief for the entire family as it was one less challenge they had to deal with.
Then, a series of unimaginable events unfolded.
On November 27th, 2015, Matthew found out that his childhood best friend, Samuel Swaney, had passed away unexpectedly from an undetected brain tumor. He was only 15 years old.
The following year, Matthew’s mother was admitted to a hospital. “Usually, she would stay for a few days and they’d get her breathing levels back up, and she would be released. But this time was different; things weren’t looking good.” On November 15, 2016, Julie Klug died due to complications from her breathing problems, which spanned 16 years.
In what was already such a difficult time for the family, Jeffrey began to struggle after his cancer reappeared in 2017. By the fall, the cancer became extremely aggressive and grew worse by the day. On the two year anniversary of his best friend’s death, Matthew’s father passed away.
In what were the three worst years of his life, Matt and his siblings had to endure many difficult and emotional times. The family also lost their grandfather, Carl, to dementia a few years prior on November 2nd, 2011. Despite all of the negatives surrounding the eleventh month of the year, some positives managed to come out of the whole situation.
Matthew and his brother, Patrick, recently came up with the idea of creating a non-profit named November Smiles. The organization’s primary goal would be to help children and teens who have lost a parent or loved one. “I have wanted to help kids that lost a parent ever since I lost my mom. It made me realize how lucky you really are to have your parents, and it also helped me see how life can take such a quick turn,” Matthew said. “After receiving so much support from my community, my teachers, coaches, teammates, I knew how good it felt to have people in your corner.”
The idea really began to take shape for Matt during this past summer thanks to a couple of key events. The first was a visit to SunTrust Park where he had the chance to meet Braves’ first baseman Freddie Freeman. The other was being drafted by the Chicago White Sox in the 38th round and making the trip out to the South Side shortly after. During these visits, especially the one to Chicago, Matthew received advice that has resonated with him since. “Every single time we thanked someone – players, scouts, coaches, media – so many of them would tell me to pay it back. Kevin Burrell, the scout that made everything happen, repeated it over and over at dinner one night up there,” Klug said. “He kept telling me to use that platform, use what I’ve been through, to make a difference to someone else.”
Just last month, the idea for the non-profit got serious as the Klug’s had a logo made, and filed the necessary paperwork. On Sunday, November 4th, November Smiles was officially announced to the public. Even though the non-profit has only been in place for a few weeks now, Matthew and his siblings have already managed to help out two brothers who were impacted by the loss of their father. Cam and Zack Zerbato, who happened to be huge Yankee fans, were the recipients of a care package that included gear, playoff tickets, and personalized bats from Aaron Judge and Gleyber Torres. All of this was done out of pocket by the Klug’s, too. “It felt so good that it made me want to do it over and over again,” said Matt. In order to help out additional families, donations through the non-profit are necessary and are already being accepted online on the November Smiles website.
“Whatever we can do to put a smile on a kid’s face, that’s what we’re going to do,” Matthew said. “Our mission is to show these kids and young adults that even through tragedy, they truly have something to smile about. Something we have been saying is to make sure you put on your November Smile every single day.”
To learn more about November Smiles and how to donate, please visit www.novembersmiles.org.
Featured Photo: Chicago White Sox