Kayla was a talented, beautiful and caring young lady who was just 3 weeks from her high school graduation when, riding in a car driven by her good friend, was killed in a tragic car accident. Her spirit still lives on in everyone who knew her and those who simply knew of her.
Her mottos were to “live to make a difference” and “be yourself and do it on purpose” (Dolly Parton). She certainly was her own unique person and she would be surprised, and we suppose a little proud, to know just how much of difference she made in her short life.
Kayla could never do anything half-heartedly. She screamed and cheered when her Broncos won, cried when they lost. When she smiled, it was with her whole being. She always preferred text-messaging over talking because she could keep up 15 conversations at a time. Music was also a great talent of Kayla’s. She played clarinet, saxophone, piano, and sang in multiple choirs. Her iPod was filled with music she loved to put her beautiful voice to.
Yet Kayla was not your ordinary teenager. She was a beautiful girl in every sense of the word. On the outside she could stop a train with her smile or a sideways glance but on the inside she was far more beautiful than that. She had the looks and personality that she could have easily been one of the “popular” girls in school but she always described herself as “not popular”. Kayla shunned the stereotypes of “popular kids” and instead showed everyone else just how nice and how gracious a beautiful girl could be.
Her Impact on the Community:
At her visitation the week following the accident, we were not at all prepared for the reaction of the community. It was there that the magnitude of her impact on other people’s lives first hit us. We were still in shock and overwhelmed with our intense personal loss and our grief. The stories people told of her broke through the fog and touched our hearts, filling them with a bittersweet pride.
The most telling of those encounters that night came towards the end of the evening. It came from a very tall young man, in a boy scout uniform who waited in line for more than 2 hours to tell us how much it meant to him that she helped him find a book in the library. His mother, who came with him, leaned over and whispered that he was “different” and that the other kids didn’t like him very much because of it. She said that he was so impressed that “someone like Kayla” would think nothing of helping him despite peer pressure to treat him as “different”. She wanted us to know how much that simple act had impacted his life and how grateful she was for it. We found ourselves lacking words to express how grateful we were to them for taking the time to come and tell us that. That story basically summed Kayla up. She didn’t care about artificial social boundaries. What she cared about was helping people in need, particularly children or people with special needs.
There were other stories too, from an autistic boy she helped out and sang songs with in their special gym class, to the teachers who told us how she got the other reluctant kids to befriend the special needs kids to help them in their classes. There were stories of all sizes and shapes, from the simple “I didn’t know Kayla very well, but she sat by me in English class and when she walked in she always gave me a smile and a hello and it made my day” to “she was an amazing girl and president of our Key Club”, or, paraphrasing, “she was everyone’s little sister at Panera Bread where she worked and her smile made all of them smile with her”.
Even people who had never met us simply needed to tell us a story or two about what they had heard about her. We heard stories of her continuing impact on the kids. Two girls leaving the funeral service the next day were overheard discussing “instead of finding a job what volunteer work could we get this summer?” A boy down the street joined the army as a medic that same week so he could do something to make a difference like Kayla had done. Kids that had strayed into destructive lifestyles somehow found strength and guidance from the way she lived her life. It was from who she was to them that they said helped straightened out their lives. They credited her with their “rebirth”.
It is with those stories in mind that we created the foundation that now bears her name.
In the months following her accident her mom and I would often take slow, quiet walks together each evening often consoling one another. It was on one of those walks, when we were discussing what Kayla would want us to do through us that the idea for “The Kayla Foundation” came to us. It was as though the idea had been whispered into our ears by Kayla herself and it just seemed to fit her so perfectly. The idea was simply to combine her love of kids, the community and of music with her unwavering desire to help others in need. What followed over the subsequent years is detailed on this website. We think she would approve.