Random Act of Kindness – “When a user does something spontaneous and unnecessarily nice for other users. Sometimes used if someone is offering something free of charge” – urbandictionary.com
Most people already know about random acts of kindness, but to one local family the words “random act of kindness” – or RAK – took on a whole new meaning over the past few years. On May 15, 2014, Keira Stout – the daughter of David and Robin Stout – was diagnosed with a rare form of childhood cancer called rhabdomyosarcoma. After a courageous battle that brought thousands of people together to love and support her through her journey, she lost her battle on May 3, 2017, at only 10 years of age.
Keira’s spirit, determination, and heart of gold, though, touched countless people along the way – largely thanks to a Facebook following on her page, #keirastrong, which has over 11,000 followers. Her mother, Robin, knew Keira’s memory would live on in multiple ways – two of which are by way of RAK cards and Keira Strong Forever Wish Days.
“After Keira’s passing, you could feel the loss and the sadness by all of her Facebook followers. There were so many people trying to make sense of this tragedy,” said Robin. “One of my friends did a small balloon release with her sons and talked with them about how to carry on a person’s legacy by finding the joy they left behind. Keira’s legacy was easy to spot because she was all about kindness and she loved the quote ‘kind is the new cool’.”
That sentiment had an impact on more than Keira – those words and Keira herself impacted countless people all over the world. ”My friend’s son wrote out a message that just said ‘I promise to be kind,’” added Robin. He wanted to know if Keira would get the message in Heaven but also if everyone else on Earth would see it as it floated away. It sparked an idea that we wished there was a way that everyone could know Keira’s story of kindness and so the RAK cards were born.”
What started out as 2,500 cards to hand out at Keira’s visitation and funeral became something that was highly sought after. “With the help of USA Mortgage, we were able to start sending them free of charge to anyone who requested them,” said Robin. “Six months later, we have printed 153,700 cards. They have been sent to all 50 states and 34 countries around the world.”
One of the countries reached – the furthest – is Cambodia. There, a woman actually translated the cards into Spanish to be given out in Spain. That type of movement, along with the acts of kindness themselves, have moved the Stout family in immeasurable ways.
Robin admits she does have a favorite RAK story. “Someone anonymously left me a stuffed panda bear (which was Keira’s favorite thing in the whole world) with little angel wings attached on my front doorstep,” she said. “It has Keira’s unforgettable laugh recorded on it that I can listen to whenever I am missing her or need to hear her voice.”
While Robin and her family have been touched by the outpouring of love and support, one particular person who was there to offer just that had the tables turned on him when he became aware of and got to know Keira.
“I met Keira initially through the St. Louis Ambush,” said Corey Adamson, who plays for the Ambush. “A member of the family reached out to the organization and asked us to make a video for her in the hopes of boosting her spirits after her port malfunctioned and nearly killed her. The day of our home opener against Milwaukee in 2014, I organized a visit and took a bunch of Ambush players to go see her and Robin at Mercy Children’s, and that’s pretty much when my life changed.”
While Adamson and so many other members of the community were rallying around Keira, her impact on others was immediate and often intense.
“I felt an instant connection to this beautiful, bald-headed child. I told her I’d score a goal for her if she ate that night, to which she replied by sticking her tongue out at me,” said Adamson with a laugh. “From that night I kept in touch with Robin, Keira, and the family. I would occasionally go over to the house for dinner and just hang out. She came out and cheered me on during Ambush games, and I’d go hang out while she got treatments at the hospital.
“She was the type of person who never met a stranger, and never knew anyone that wasn’t a friend or playmate. She effortlessly forced herself into our hearts and nerves and emotions,” added Adamson. “The day after my wife, Melissa, and I got engaged we met with her at Chick-fil-A. She ran out, jumped in my arms, scowled and asked, ‘Are you getting married!?’ After telling her yes and to whom she replied, ‘I better be the flower girl!’ She became such a huge part of our lives in such a short time (including being flower girl in our wedding). I learned so much about life and what it means to live happily. She impacted more people in her short life than most people do in 80 years. I’m so incredibly lucky and blessed to have been part of her life, and to have her in mine.”
Another way Keira’s legacy continues is by way of Wish Days. The Wish Days, which are an extension of the Stout’s families push for awareness for #morethan4 movement – a movement that wants to raise the amount of funding the National Cancer Institute dedicates to childhood cancer – which is only 4%.
“The Wish Days are, in addition to kindness, a part of Keira’s legacy,” said Robin. “They actually started with her – she received her wish of a purple moped from Santa just a few days before Christmas last year. She got it early because he told her it was too big to fit on his sleigh.”
In order to make the Wish Days work there is a process in place. Each has three components, starting with a ‘wow’ factor. “Keira was bigger than life and always did everything full speed and at 110% and these wish days are a reflection of that,” said Robin. “They all have a ‘jaw drop’ component.”
They all also contain family, friends, and supporters who are welcome to join in as there is an effort to keep the events local.
Finally, each Wish Day has community members, local business, and local organizations who come together to put them on – with each child receiving a large Random Act of Kindness card from Robin on their Wish Day.
While every Wish Day is special, Robin admits that she does have a favorite.
“My favorite moment was from Julia’s wish day,” said Robin. “Seeing hundreds of people come together to recreate a music video of her favorite song from the Descendants 2 movie. Dance teams from all across St. Louis learned the flash mob dance via a video link on YouTube. The dancers hid in the mall corridor and to the battle cry words ‘Let’s go, here we go’ the flash mob rushed the stage to reveal the flash mob as if from nowhere. It was a powerful moment.”
To fully appreciate Wish Days – and to see videos as they have unfolded – visit www.keirastrongforever.org/wish-days-1/. For anyone wanting to receive and in turn share RAK cards, there is a contact tab on the website keirastrongforever.org where cards can be requested, or contact Kelly Wittenauer via Facebook Messenger.
Photos courtesy of the Stout Family