18 years may be far too few years spent on Earth, but it's plenty enough time to make a mark on others, which is what Alyssa O’Neill did before her life was cut short by epilepsy. In fact, according to Today, a huge #AJO (Alyssa Josephine O’Neill) pay-it-forward movement began with a simple gesture by Alyssa’s grieving parents.
The day Alyssa died from a seizure caused by her epilepsy on September 4, she sent her parents a text asking them to take her to get a pumpkin spice latte the next day. Never having gotten the chance to do so, they went to a local Starbucks and bought pumpkin spiced lattes for 40 people. All they asked for in return was that they put the hashtag #AJO in purple (Alyssa’s favorite color) on the cups.
“We told the manager why and all the employees were moved, so they all donated drinks until we had bought drinks for 90 people,’’ Jason O’Neill, Alyssa's father, told Today.
The movement has spread through the power of social media and Jason said photos with #AJO have been posted from as far away as Afghanistan, Italy, Iceland, Sri Lanka, and China.
The movement has also morphed into other good deeds besides paying for another’s coffee. One person paid a random person's Christmas layaway bill at Toys ‘R’ Us while another bought movie tickets – each random act of kindness was accompanied by #AJO on the receipts.
Fellow students at McDowell High School, where Alyssa was a cheerleader, honored Alyssa’s memory by wearing purple at a recent football game. In addition, her parents were given a super emotional 15-minute standing ovation.
Jason, who has three other children, told TODAY that they drove Alyssa to school every day because she couldn’t drive due to the epilepsy. As he put it, “We thought that by having her at home, we could keep her as safe as possible. It still didn't work out as we wanted it to.”
That doesn’t mean he isn’t beyond touched by the far reach the AJO movement has had. “My wife and I have said the words, ‘amazing,’ ‘awesome,’ and ‘magical’ more than we ever have in our entire lives. We never thought it would spread like this," Jason said. "We're still in disbelief, and every time we think, ‘There's no way they can top this,’ something more amazing happens.”
This tugs at our heartstrings beyond belief. We’d like to partake in paying it forward for Alyssa. How about you?