Family Tragedy Sparks Official Random Acts of Kindness Day in Missouri

Photo: (Photo : TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)

A bill officially recognizing August 31 as Random Acts of Kindness Day has been signed into law in Missouri, encouraging locals to do a kind deed for total strangers. This idea, however, was borne out of a family tragedy involving the death of Shayley Akers in 2016.

Mom Lela Thompson told Fox News that their family's world imploded when Akers died by suicide. She said that aside from dealing with the shock of losing her daughter, they didn't have much awareness and education about suicide, mental health, and depression.

In 2017, Thompson said that their family wanted to honor her daughter's memory and selfless character. Aker was the type of person who "would give you the shirt off her back," even to complete strangers. At the same time, the mother wanted to bring attention to suicide prevention and realized that they could do both by encouraging people to do random acts of kindness.

With Thompson's idea, Washington County started Random Acts of Kindness Day in 2017. People who participated in doing good deeds also handed out cards to the recipients with the text containing information about depression or getting help for suicide prevention. The card also encouraged the recipient to pay the good deeds forward.

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Soon, however, their family's story inspired other counties to do the same until state representatives decided to introduce legislation to make this a state-wide commemoration.

Shayley Akers' Legacy

Thompson, a kindergarten teacher, said that the sheriff informed her in school about her daughter's death. Aker was only 19 and had been an outgoing young woman. She was active in a lot of school clubs and was the homecoming queen.

"She saw the good in everything and everybody," the mother said, adding that they do not have a dysfunctional family life and no one did drugs.

"My child had a mental illness and I didn't know so now I have to be her legacy."

The 19-year-old left her mother a letter to say goodbye and wrote down what she wanted for her funeral. She also encouraged her mother to do good, and that has always resonated with Thompson.

The mom worked with Rep. Mike McGirl for the last three years to make this legacy a reality. Amid the heartbreak of talking about suicide at various U.S. locations, the mother finally got the call she had been waiting for from McGirl, who said that the bill for Random Acts of Kindness Day was going to pass the House and Senate.

The mother said that this day would also be a day to encourage people that "it's okay to not be okay" and that they can reach out to someone to talk about their depression. Thompson also formed Shayley's Angels, composed of trained mental health workers who educate communities on mental health.

Her Kindness Lives On

Years after her daughter's death, Thompson said that she still gets messages from people who tell her about the kindness Aker showed to them. One former schoolmate told Thompson that her daughter gave her compliments while other students used to bully her. Another peer said that Aker gave her one of her necklaces when she learned that she likes the design.

The girl who was so giving was supposed to turn 24 this year. On her birthday on July 27, Missouri gifted her with such a special honor after Gov. Mike Parson signed S.B. 72 into law to officially make August 31 the state's Random Acts of Kindness Day.

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