By Phil de Haan - December 3, 2019
It was a 14-word headline – “Name of 10-year-old killed in Gaines Township golf cart crash is released” – followed by an 86-word story.
In those words on the mLive website on July 19, 2014 was a tale of tragedy: details on the death of Brookelyn Elias, who had died the day before when a golf cart she was on rolled over.
But the story didn’t end that terrible day in July five years ago. And it won’t end anytime soon says Brookelyn’s mom, Tonya Elias. That’s because in the wake of Brookelyn’s death, she and her husband, Paul, started a nonprofit called Blessed by Brookelyn, using the life insurance money received after her death to do so.
“Out of our grief, we have developed a deeper faith and perseverance,” she says. “And we are using the nonprofit that carries Brookelyn’s name to impact our community.”
Among those on the receiving end of that positive impact are elementary schools in the Grand Rapids Public Schools system. This past soccer season Blessed by Brookelyn donated some 150 pairs of cleats, plus numerous pairs of shin guards, soccer socks and even balls to the GRPS soccer program. They also purchased gift cards for GRPS volunteer coaches in memory of Brookelyn.
A Teacher Giving Back
The connection to GRPS schools is a natural for Elias, a former GRPS teacher who taught at both Harrison Park and Westwood middle schools before moving to East Kentwood High School, where she continues to teach while also heading up her charity.
But beyond her background and belief in education, there is also Brookelyn’s history as an athlete, including as a soccer player who loved the game and was a strong last line of support as a defender. Today the charity that bears her name provides a similar last line of support, equipping numerous kids who might not otherwise be able to play with the tools needed to participate.
For Kellie Kieren, a physical education teacher at North Park Montessori and district coordinator for elementary soccer for GRPS elementary schools, the partnership with Elias has been unexpected but vital.
“It fell into our laps,” she says. “Tonya is an amazing human being. Whatever she could do, she just wanted to help. She and Paul are particularly passionate about helping kids in need within Grand Rapids, and they’ve done amazing things for our district. She will get it done.”
And it’s not just soccer and basketball gear that Tonya collects. Word is getting out about the charity, and donations of clothing now make regular appearances at both the Elias house (on Facebook, Tonya jokes with friends that “yes, the porch is always open”) as well as at the headquarters for both the charity and Paul’s HVAC business on Madison Avenue SE in Grand Rapids, just south of 28th Street.
Read the rest of the story on School News Network.