Kayla was a musically talented, beautiful and caring young lady who was just 3 weeks away from her high school graduation when, riding in a car driven by her good friend early one evening, was killed in a tragic car accident. Her spirit still lives on in those who knew her and those who simply knew of her.
According to her “My Space” page at the time of her death, 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 a difference she made in her short life.
Kayla could never do anything half-heartedly. She screamed and cheered when her Broncos won, and 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 the same time. 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. She volunteered with youth mission trips to help the poor, participated in multiple charitable events locally, helped provide child care at church and instinctively just helped anyone who was in need, especially those with special needs or circumstances.
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 became apparent. We were still in shock and overwhelmed with our intense personal loss and our grief, but the stories people told about her broke through the haze of grief and touched our hearts, filling them with a bittersweet pride.
Perhaps 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 being “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.
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 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 us 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. Teens that had strayed into destructive lifestyles somehow found the moral guidance and fortitude from the way she lived her life. They said they began to change their lives for the better in the wake of the tragedy. They credited her with their “rebirth”.
The Genesis of Her Foundation
In the months following her accident we would often take slow, quiet walks together consoling one another. It was during one of those walks, when we were discussing what Kayla would want us to do to carry on for her, 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, music and our community, with her unwavering desire to help others in need. What followed was pretty remarkable and is detailed on this website.
The Kayla Foundation logo uses Kayla’s actual pink signature as its centerpiece. This signature was copied from the last birthday card she would ever give to her mom, which was just 2 weeks before her death. Her signature is uplifted in the title line, representing how she lifted up the lives of others while she was on earth, and how her memory continues to lift spirits today.