I first heard the words from my mother, who spoke them shortly after my brother died following a car accident in October 1985, two months before his 19th birthday: A parent’s worst nightmare is having to bury their child. It’s supposed to be the other way around.
I’ve never forgotten those two sentences, especially now as the father of two children, and they came painfully to mind three years ago when I learned of the tragic death of Josh Stevens. I was volunteering in my son’s fifth-grade class on a Monday morning when his teacher told me about a student who perished the previous weekend in a horrific accident. She said the 12-year-old victim was Stevens, and while the name didn’t register at first, later that night it hit me: Josh’s father, Drew, had coached my daughter’s T-ball team that very spring.
Suddenly, an unfathomable tragedy got a little more personal. I didn’t know Drew or his wife, Barbara, outside of the T-ball experience, but I knew that they lived for their three children. I also knew, as someone who lost his brother more than two decades earlier, that their lives would never be the same.
I have had personal contact with the Stevens family just twice since Josh’s accident: at a memorial at Josh’s middle school a couple of days after his passing, and at a local restaurant on—of all days—Mother’s Day a couple of years ago. But barely a day goes by that I’m not reminded of the Stevens family. That’s because in the aftermath of Josh’s death, his grieving parents decided to form the Josh Stevens Foundation, a tribute as unique as their son’s spirit.
The foundation’s message is rooted in the one word that the Stevens family believed summed up Josh to the core: kindness. So they made it their mission to not only remind family and friends of their son’s caring heart, but also to introduce it to a community that never got the chance to experience it.
Within weeks of Josh’s death, former classmates at Vanderburg elementary and Bob Miller middle schools began sporting “Be Kind …” T-shirts with various inspirational slogans printed on the back. And when classmates were “caught” being kind—helping a fellow student in need, picking up trash, etc.—they’d receive a tri-fold card that included a poem, Josh’s story and a gift card (usually valued at $5) from an area business.
Nearly three years later, more than 40,000 “Be Kind …” T-shirts have been purchased and/or distributed and 25,000 “Kindness Cards” have been issued, with the foundation donating proceeds to help needy families and individuals. The family is spreading the message via billboards throughout the Valley and even as far away as Oregon. And from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sept. 24, the foundation will host its first “Joshi’s Jamboree” at Combat Zone Paintball (13011 Las Vegas Blvd. South)—a place whose opening Josh had awaited but never got to see.
More than 90 area schools have been invited to take part in the jamboree, which is open to the public. Barbara and Drew, along with surviving children Shelbie and Sam, will attend, no doubt looking for kids engaging in the kind of thoughtful acts Josh would’ve encouraged. They’ll reward those kids with “Kindness Cards,” and they will smile and they will cry. And while there is no formal blueprint for grieving and moving on, there is—as Josh proved in his 12 short years—a blueprint for living life: Be kind.