When grieving mom, Olga, is feeling down and defeated, she will watch a video that her late son, TJ, asked to make while she was working on a project herself.  In the video, TJ says, ‘We are dedicated and motivated. We do not give up. Even if we are sad, we do not give up. Never.’ At the time, TJ was a happy, healthy young 5-year-old boy. He was a joy and a light to all around him. Olga had no idea that he would tragically die just a year later when he drowned at summer camp.
As TJ’s family mourned TJ, they were struck by the fact that his death was so preventable. TJ’s parents did not want another family to suffer this tragedy so they started a foundation just 4 months after TJ’s death. TJ’s Story has two primary goals. The first goal is to work with legislators in the state of Missouri to enact legislation to improve safety at summer camps. Many camps had policies that recommended a certain number of lifeguards to be present for children to swim. In fact, the camp that TJ attended had such a policy, but when a lifeguard called in sick that day, they went ahead with swimming anyway. TJ’s parents hope that if this policy was instead a state law, camps would be more likely to cancel swimming instead of breaking the law. The second goal of TJ’s story is to help provide free swim lessons to young children. They currently have an amazing partnership with Goldfish Swim School to help provide lessons. They have amazing fundraisers where they have been able to raise thousands of dollars.
Certainly, over these weeks and months following TJ’s death, Olga has had periods when she feels like giving up, but TJ’s words always come back to her. ‘Even if we are sad, we do not give up. Never.’ His bright smile and friendly manner will never be forgotten. Olga says that TJ came in like a firecracker and went out like a rainbow, but it seems to me that through TJ’s Story, the light of the rainbow is going to keep on shining. Although Olga and her family only had six short years of memories with TJ, their hard work will make it so countless other children will live to be able to create far more memories of their own.