A Story of Heartbreak & Hope
The Dandelion Foundation was inspired through a sequence of tragic events, random acts of kindness, and lives forever changed. It’s a story of heartbreak and loss but also of kindness and hope.
Hug A Child for Tylin Paige
On January 3, 2003 in a prison cell Shawn Hertel received the devastating news that his little girl Tylin Page had been a victim of child abuse and had lost her life. She died just 2 weeks shy of her 2nd birthday.
Miles away and a complete stranger to Shawn and his family, a sweet, kind, and innocent 6 year old little girl named Jaden Gregory saw the media coverage on the events surrounding Tylin’s death. Jaden didn’t fully understand exactly what had happened but she was so concerned for Tylin that she asked her mom Donelle if they could send Tylin a teddy bear. Donelle gently explained to Jaden that they couldn’t send her a teddy bear because she was already in Heaven. Jaden was determined to find another way to do something for Tylin. She and her mom came up with the idea to make and sell little wooden heart pins that said “Hug a Child for Tylin Paige”.
The community poured out their support, the pins quickly sold out and almost $1,000 was raised. The funds were then donated to the Watson Children’s Shelter in honor of Tylin. Jaden’s efforts were so inspiring that the Missoulian printed a story about what she had done.
Back in prison Shawn received a copy of the paper and read about what a 6 year old little girl and her mom had done on behalf of his daughter. His grief counselor had purchased their own pin and gifted that pin to Shawn in their next counseling session. Shawn was deeply moved and touched by such a selfless act of kindness from a complete stranger.
Two years later Shawn was released from prison and set out to track down Jaden and her mom Donelle. But due to misinformation and a wrong last name Shawn ran in to a dead end. He had no leads and no way of contacting Jaden and Donelle to thank them for all that they had done.
If We Don’t Stand for Kids, We Don’t Stand for Much
Seven years later, on March 1, 2010 Jessica Bray’s daughter Kaelyn Serene Bray lost her life to child abuse. Kaelyn was 3 ½ years old. There was a lot of media coverage surrounding Kaelyn’s death and it was closely followed by thousands of people, one of which was Shawn Hertel. Shawn felt an incredibly close connection to Kaelyn’s death due to the ironic similarities between her death and Tylin’s. Kaelyn and Tylin were similar ages, had similar physical features, had lost their lives in similar ways, and even had similar names. Kaelyn’s death reminded him of his own daughter’s death but also of the random act of kindness showed to him by Jaden and her mom Donelle. Since there was no way to repay the kindness done to him, he instead decided to pay it forward to someone else. He thought to himself “If a 6-year old can do something so kind for me then I can do the same for someone else”.
Shawn, his wife (then fiancé), and her friend brainstormed ways they could support Jessica and Kaelyn and they designed and sold little butterfly magnets that said “If we don’t stand for kids, we don’t stand for much”. Again the community rallied their support and the butterfly magnets sold like crazy. They raised almost $1,000 dollars in less than a week.
When Jessica heard about the butterfly magnets she was suspicious at first because she had no idea who Shawn was or what he was trying to do. She worked with a detective to find out and eventually Shawn heard that Jessica wanted to get into contact with him. He passed along his number to a friend of Jessica’s who had bought a magnet and eventually contact was made.
Shawn and Jessica met for the very first time about a week and a half after Kaelyn had passed away. Shawn explained to Jessica his own personal experience with Tylin’s death and the story of what Jaden and Donelle had done for him. He donated all the funds raised from the butterfly magnets to Jessica with one condition. He said “Please find some way to pay this forward somehow. Don’t allow these events to define you in a negative way but instead to become bigger and better.”
After Kaelyn’s death Jessica’s world was shattered, her heart was broken, and her faith in humanity was lost. But because of the random act of kindness shown to her by a complete stranger, her life took a drastic turn. She turned her loss and her pain into a force for good, into something that was bigger and better than she alone could be.
The Dandelion Foundation
Jessica took Shawn’s one condition to heart and used those funds to found the Dandelion Foundation. Due to the ongoing trial for the murder of Kaelyn, Jessica was advised by the county attorney not to do anything until after the sentencing so the Dandelion Foundation wasn’t officially funded until in February 2011. During that waiting period Jessica took the time to brainstorm all the ways in which she could use the funds for good. She decided to start a non-profit organization to preventing child abuse and domestic violence because she wanted to put as much effort into honoring Kaelyn’s memory as she would have into being her parent. In April 2011, The Dandelion Foundation hosted their first event and has since continued organizing community education and outreach events to aid in prevention of child abuse and family violence.
Hearts to Remember
Ten years after the death of his daughter, Shawn finally got to meet and say thank you to Jaden and Donelle. Thanks to the use of a more sophisticated tracking system Shawn was able to contact and meet them for the first time at a Dandelion Foundation event. The Dandelion Foundation presented Jaden with the Jaden Gregory Hearts to Remember Award, an award created in her honor and the random act of kindness a 6-year old little girl showed a victim of child abuse and her grieving father.
The Dandelion Foundation is living testimony to the power of a simple act of kindness and a reminder that light can always shine even in the darkest of places.