Issue 17-118 — January 21, 2017
Starshine Galaxy Foundation is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to help sustain the memories of children who have died. To this end, we support the Tributes to Lost Children Community Page on Facebook as a place to post, share, and comment on activities to honor our departed children and to celebrate their lives. This biweekly Tributes Digest presents highlights from this community page along with other items of interest. Please feel free to forward this on to others you know who might be interested, and direct any comments, questions, or concerns to

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Wear Red Sneakers for Oakley (January 20) – Oakley Debbs was an active kid who loved to be outside. Although he had been diagnosed as mildly allergic to tree nuts and peanuts, the Debbs family was more concerned about Oakley’s asthma – the 11-year-old had suffered several life-threatening asthma attacks throughout his childhood. But Oakley was always very careful with his food, diligently reading labels and avoiding anything with nuts. Over the Thanksgiving holiday, however, Oakley accidentally ate some food that contained nuts. Less than two hours later, Oakley went into anaphylactic shock and cardiac arrest. Oakley died in his dad’s arms soon after arriving at the hospital. Within days of losing Oakley, the Debbs started Red Sneakers for Oakley, a foundation dedicated to raising awareness about the dangers of food-related allergies through education, research, and public policy initiatives. And the red sneakers? “In every sport that he ever played,” his mom says, “his sneakers always had to be red.” The Debbs want to make red sneakers a symbol for food allergy awareness.
These Photographs Are More Than Memories – They’re Treasures (January 16) – Lyndsay Brentlinger was 23 weeks pregnant with twins – a boy and a girl – when an ultrasound revealed that their son had something terribly wrong with his heart. Lyndsay and her husband, Matt, were told that their son would most likely be stillborn. Against all odds, both babies were born – wide-eyed, beautiful, and alive – on December 17, 2016. Their daughter, Reagan, was healthy; but as expected, their son, William, had a fatal heart condition. William was still able to come home, though, and for 11 days the Brentlingers were a family of four. “They were the happiest 11 days of my life,” Matthew says. A family friend contacted professional photographer Lindsey Brown, who came to capture a few of those moments. “They’re treasures,” Lyndsay says. “I don’t know how to express how appreciative I am of the pictures.”
The Amy Bennett Foundation: Celebrating a Life Unburdened by Regrets (January 18) – From a young age, Amy Bennett showed immense talent as a singer, dancer, and actress. She acted in countless performances during her school years, then graduated from the University of Northern Colorado with the highest distinction in Musical Theater. In early 2014, Amy realized her life-long dream when she moved to New York City to audition as a Broadway actress. That year, Amy decided to spend the summer working at the Jackson Hole Playhouse in Jackson, Wyoming. As she biked to work one day, she was struck and killed by a truck; she was 23 years old. Amy’s family wanted to celebrate her life, so they started The Amy Bennett Foundation. “There is no set of pictures or words that could possibly capture how much Amy influenced us, brought light and sunshine into our lives, and challenged us to be our higher selves,” they say. The organization funds three major scholarship programs designed to accelerate the careers of aspiring dramatic performers. It also advocates for cyclist safety and protection.
The Ryan Thomas Foundation: Good People Are Remembered (January 12) – The Ryan Thomas Foundation is dedicated to helping prevent water-related fatalities. The Thomas family started the Ryan Thomas Foundation in honor of their much-loved son, brother, grandson, nephew, and cousin. By all accounts, Ryan was a wonderful young man who had his whole life in front of him. He was in his junior year as a communications major at Arizona State University, and he loved his family, sports, and being outside. In late 2008, just three months after he turned 21, Ryan went out on a lake with some friends. Although he was a good swimmer, he accidentally drowned. Before Ryan passed away, he had written a mission statement for one of his college classes. “I just want to be a good person,” he wrote. “Good people are remembered.” Ryan’s family wants you to remember Ryan by learning CPR and always wearing a life vest when you’re on the water.
Mya Terry – Budded on Earth ... to Bloom in Heaven (January 17) – In 2007, one of Mya Terry’s kindergarten teachers noticed that her neck seemed swollen. Her mom, Kelly, took her to the pediatrician, and within hours Mya was admitted to the hospital. Tests revealed that she had Stage Three non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Mya battled the disease for more than five years before she passed away in 2013, at the age of 10. Mya was active with the girl scouts, played soccer, swam, and liked to ride her bike. She also spent a lot of time giving back to others. Her philanthropic activities include Mya's Mommy Bags, bone marrow swabbing drives, annual blood donation drives, and the “Mya Sent Me: Pay It Forward/Random Act of Kindness” movement. Mya’s mom started The Mya Lin Terry Foundation to honor her daughter’s “warrior princess spirit.” The organization is dedicated to fostering the spirit of giving, enriching the lives of pediatric cancer patients, raising awareness about childhood cancer, and supporting research into causes and better treatment methods.
Lucy Was a Bright Star, and Her Light Keeps Shining (January 19) – Stuart and Jenny Rayner say that their daughter Lucy was “a beautiful, sensitive soul, a daughter, a sister, a girlfriend, a granddaughter, a cousin, an auntie, a best friend, a helper, a hard worker, a diva, a perfectionist, a wild child, a risk taker, a party animal [and] the list goes on…” Lucy was 22 years old when she took her own life. It was something, her parents say, that no one saw coming. Lucy had mood swings, but she had never been diagnosed with depression or any form of mental illness. But she didn’t talk about her feelings, finding it hard to express her emotions. The Rayners started The Lucy Rayner Foundation to keep their daughter’s memory alive. The organization’s main goal is to raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of depression, and help change the way mental health is perceived.
Jennifer’s Parents Work to Fulfill Her Dreams, Every Day (January 9) – Jennifer Wilks was 14 years old when she was diagnosed with AML, or acute myeloid leukemia. During her three and a half years of treatment, Jennifer had three bone marrow transplants and spent more than 400 days in the hospital. Although the course of her treatment was long and challenging, Jennifer’s dad, Tim Wilks, says that his daughter was a shining star: “Jennifer was energetic and just full of life. Her smile would light up a room.” She became passionate about wanting one day to help pediatric cancer patients and their families. “She would say, ‘someday it’s what I want to do,’” Tim says. “And I told her, ‘don’t worry, you will.’ That was her strength.” Jennifer was 17 years old when she passed away in 2005. But her dream stayed alive. In 2006, her parents started a foundation in her name to help children with cancer. The Jennifer Wilks Foundation works every day to support the organizations that “put a smile on Jennifer’s face” when she was alive.
Erin is Hope: Giving Children the Tools They Need to Soar (January 10) – Erin Goodwin was six months old when her parents, Eddy and Carole Goodwin, realized that she didn’t respond to sound in a normal way. After taking her to see a specialist, they discovered that Erin was profoundly deaf. Speech therapist Barbara Hull used Association Method training with Erin when she was a toddler. By kindergarten, Erin was reading, mainstreamed with hearing students in grade school, and identified as a gifted learner. She graduated high school with a 4.0 grade point average and was co-valedictorian of her class. Although her academic success continued in college, her health declined. Just after spring break of her freshman year, Erin had a massive seizure and passed away. Erin’s legacy is the Erin Is Hope Foundation, Inc. – an organization dedicated to giving children with communication disorders tools they need to succeed.
A Balloon Sent to Heaven Brings Friendship to a Grieving Mom (January 13) – Brian Winters was shot and killed on the streets of Chicago on August 31, 2016. The 33-year-old was working on his car when a masked man walked up to him, fired multiple shots at his head, and ran away. This year, on January 6, which is Brian’s birthday, his family released balloons from the place where he lost his life – the place where his family believes his soul ascended to heaven. Only one of the balloons contained a handwritten message: “Brian Winters – 8-31-16 – Love, Mom and Dad.” That balloon drifted for hours and then came down from the sky 35 miles away. It landed at the feet of Tammy Hnatiuk. Tammy followed up and has now become friends with Deborah Winters, Brian’s mom. “That balloon knew where it was going when it left my hand,” Deborah says.
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The complete netbook version of Tributes to Lost Children – a snapshot of how 147 families have honored their children who have passed away – is publicly available for FREE. Click on the cover image above to navigate to this powerful, heart-warming compilation of tribute stories.
Based on results of the Tributes Survey, three general motivations anchor bereaved families in their tribute activities. See the organizing Tributes Framework that serves as the backbone of the new book Tributes to Lost Children.
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