IOWA DERECHO 2020

Team Elliott helps Iowa storm victims in late son's honor

Sarah Ryan formed Team Elliott with her family to honor her late son with good deeds.
Sarah Ryan formed Team Elliott with her family to honor her late son with good deeds.

By Kylie Alger, correspondent

CEDAR RAPIDS — Tabitha McVay was working in her yard with family and friends, cutting up huge mature trees that landed on her deck when a vehicle pulled up with Dubuque license plates. Four people walked right up to her saying, “We are here to help! Many hands make for light work.”

McVay was overwhelmed that strangers would jump in and help at a time when she and her neighbors were in dire need. “The cleanup went so much faster after the Ryan family and friends showed up.” she said. “They brought two chain saws with them. They were such a blessing to us and our neighborhood.”

Seeing how much more work needed to be done, the Ryan family went back home to Dubuque, gathered a trailer full of supplies, recruited more volunteers and showed up three days later to help even more families in Cedar Rapids and Mechanicsville.

McVay said she noticed the Ryan family wearing hats and shirts with the logo “TEAM ELLIOTT” on them. When she asked about the meaning behind the team name, Sarah Ryan explained, “We created Team Elliott after we lost our son. Our family decided to do good deeds in his honor, as a way to have his memory and legacy live on.”

On Sept. 19, 2006, Ryan delivered twins prematurely at 30 weeks at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. Addison weighed 3 pounds, 4 ounces and spent 81 days in the NICU. Her twin brother, Elliott, weighed 2 pounds, 3 ounces and spent 16 days on earth before he became an angel. To honor his memory, the family has been devoted to the March of Dimes, raising close to $300,000 to join in the mission to end prematurity, infant loss and birth defects.

After the loss of their son, Ryan felt very alone. She said as a family they would go through the ups and downs of grieving, especially around the anniversary of Elliott’s death on Oct. 5.

“One year I was feeling especially sad, and then it hit me: Elliott does not want us to be sad, he wants us to feel good by doing good,” Ryan said. “So as a family, we made a conscious choice to turn our grief into good. We started doing random acts of kindness in Elliott’s honor.”

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They do their random acts of kindness with their children, ages 9, 11 and 13, and no act of kindness is too small.

“Your random act of kindness doesn’t have to be donating thousands of dollars or anything elaborate. For example, one year we were told a student was being bullied at school for having holes in her shoes, so we went to the store as a family and picked out a new pair of shoes to give her. My kids were able to witness her whole face light up when she received her new shoes.”

We are inspired to give in many different ways: through physical labor, financially, with our time, by running errands, being a listening ear, and more.

“Doing good for others with Team Elliott has become a positive outlet to help manage our grief,” Ryan said.

Helping out families like McVay’s is just one way the Ryan family is carrying on Elliott’s memory.

The aftermath of any crisis offers us an opportunity to step outside our own concerns and, as the Ryan family says, “Be the good,” for others.

Hearing this inspiring story of how the Ryan family chose to turn their grief into a life of service reminds me to ask myself the question, “In what ways can I be of service to others?”

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