NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - A North Shore couple whose lives were forever changed by tragedy nine years ago are now paying it forward.
They are delivering hope to grieving families and helping pay for it through community fundraisers.
At a recent Saturday morning flag football tournament, you get the sense that winning isn’t nearly as important as making a difference.
In the name of Ayden Phillips, it’s part of a fundraising mission that keeps getting stronger.
Family friend Monica Alongi says, “A lot of these families have been through an unimagineable loss, and to be able to be close to them and helping them understand that there is a tomorrow, we’re all in this together. It helps, it helps.”
Ayden was just three and a half years old when a day of family fun took a tragic turn.
“We had no idea he was in danger. We had no idea there was anything wrong and he was probably missing for a minute,” says Darryl Phillips, Ayden’s father. “It was fast. He slipped out of everyone’s eyesight and got back in the pool.”
Ayden drowned, was resuscitated, but died the next day at the hospital.
His parents, Darryl and Erin Phillips, were beside themselves with grief as they donated his organs and planned his funeral.
“I don’t think any parent thinks about that. We were traumatized and in shock for days,” Darryl Phillips says.
Two months after Ayden passed away, Erin and Darryl made a decision to pay it forward.
“My dad always said helping people helps you,” says Erin Phillips.
The whole funeral process made them realize how unprepared families are to bury a child.
“Moneywise, no one prepares,” says Erin. “It’s hard on you grieving, and it’s hard on you because typically you don’t have the money for it.”
They started a non profit called Ayden’s Foundation of Hope.
Their hope was to help at least one family who lost a young child with things like funeral expenses, medical bills and grief support.
They send books, dvd’s and a check to help cover the unexpected costs.
And those who know them best are amazed how this month’s FOX 8 great neighbors continue to find bright spots with every event they host.
Michelle Phillips is proud of her son and daughter-in-law.
She says, “It’s bitter sweet for one because I’ve seen the pain they’ve experienced through their loss but as darryl’s mom and erin’s mother-in-law, I’m so incredibly proud of what these kids have done with their loss of Ayden.”
“We don’t do any of this for recognition. It’s good to hear Ayden’s name bless a family,” says Darryl. “It’s been several years for us, but it’s still real and it’s still raw, so it’s nice to pay it forward a little bit.”
Erin agrees, “It’s good to help people because it’s one of the worst things to go through ever.”
There are more fundraisers in March and the foundation receives tremendous community support, including from the Slidell Police Department and Slidell Fire Department. They are also partnering with a group called Slidell H-2-0 to help pay for swimming lessons for kids whose family can’t afford it.
For more info, go to www.aydenshope.org.