Kennedy Handley never met a stranger. She was kind, yet cautious – bold, but also humble. By 7 years old, she had already established herself as an exceptional student, teammate and friend to everyone she knew.
To the shock of many, Kennedy tragically passed away when a wooden arch collapsed on her while celebrating a quinceañera Sept. 3, 2022. The void that was left, especially the “Kennedy Hugs,” was felt by countless classmates, teachers, family members and many within Wise County.
Although Kennedy’s life was cut short, her mother, Brenda Handley, is keeping her legacy alive through the Live Like Kennedy Foundation. Through the nonprofit organization, Brenda and her team of supporters are demonstrating Kennedy’s love through scholarships, monetary donations and acts of kindness.
Brenda said that the foundation was imagined the night of Kennedy’s passing, where she told herself Kennedy’s impact would continue to be felt even after her daughter was gone.
“I was thinking and asking myself, ‘How can I continue? How can I keep her alive?’” Brenda Handley said. “I was thinking about ways that I could keep her name out there, ways that others could know her, and I even remember telling Kennedy that I was going to find a way.”
Shortly after Kennedy’s passing, a GoFundMe campaign was set up with a goal of $5,000 intended to cover funeral expenses.
Within three days of the campaign launch, it surpassed $25,000.
Because of the rapid, heartfelt response of the community, Kennedy’s funeral was taken care of, and Brenda had the funds to make the Live Like Kennedy Foundation a reality. In just a short time, Kennedy’s death was breathing new life into others.
“My husband and I started talking about how we wanted to provide scholarships with this money that we started the foundation with. Pretty soon, we realized we couldn’t just keep the focus on our community, which is Paradise,” Brenda Handley said. “When Kennedy passed, everybody from Wise County showed their love to her and to us, so we wanted to spread that love back across the county.”
The number 12 was chosen as the amount of scholarships the foundation would provide to graduating seniors in Wise County. Not only was 12 Kennedy’s soccer number, it was a symbol that began appearing to Brenda to let her know Kennedy was still with her, she said.
There were four more tragic deaths of Wise County students in 2022 after Kennedy’s passing: Jonathan Gonzalez of Bridgeport High School, Maycie South of Chico Middle School, Athena Strand of Paradise Elementary School and Samantha Thomas of Alvord High School. Knowing the pain of losing a child, Brenda reached out to those families to ask if the Live Like Kennedy Foundation could honor those kids with scholarships in their names, too.
“Some of those families told me they planned on starting scholarships in their kids’ names, but they just hadn’t started yet. Everyone grieves differently, and helping honor their kids along with Kennedy was my way,” Brenda Handley said. “Maycie South’s mom, Heather South, said it best, ‘We are beautifully broken together.’”
Twelve scholarships for the amount of $1,000 were established, with four honoring the other Wise County students who passed. Earlier this month, the applications opened for Wise County seniors.
Of course, the applications included basic personal and demographic information of the students. But more importantly, one question inspired by Kennedy was asked of the applicants: How do you plan to make an impact on this world?
“We’ve had some beautiful responses written, and the kids are making it really hard on us,” Brenda Handley said. “I love reading them, and a lot of them have brought me to tears.”
While the applications will close on May 15, and scholarships will be announced June 1, this is only the beginning of the Live Like Kennedy Foundation. In the spirit of Kennedy, the foundation has plans for future fellowship events to bring the community together, and will continue scholarships with the hopes of increasing the amounts awarded.
The foundation will host a charity golf tournament June 10 at RB Golf Club & Resort to raise money for youth programs and future scholarships. Scholarship recipients will be invited to the tournament to receive what will hopefully be the first of many scholarships in Kennedy’s name.
“We want people who are coming to Kennedy’s golf tournament to see the impact that she’s making, and to see how her foundation is making a difference in our community,” Brenda Handley said.
Scholarship applications will be open through May 15 for all seniors that have been accepted to an accredited college, university or technical school, and plan to attend the fall 2023 semester.
For more information on the Live Like Kennedy Foundation, or to contribute donations, contact Brenda Handley by email at email@example.com, or by phone at (940) 210-0507.
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