CORINTH -- On the first anniversary of their toddler’s death, Eric and Ashley Rosenbrock are finding comfort in the little things.
Their daughter, Vivienne, died Jan. 16, 2013, after a sudden onset of sepsis pneumonia, leaving behind an older sister. When September rolled around, on what would have been Vivienne’s second birthday, Ashley asked a few friends and family members to do something nice for others as a way of remembering their little girl.
“It was just a way for me to say, ‘Don’t focus on what’s missing. Live your life to the fullest,' ” Ashley said.
The Rosenbrocks held a balloon launch a little over a week ago at their house to gather those who had helped them through a bittersweet year.
Not only had they grieved the loss of Vivienne, but less than three months later they welcomed the birth of a third child, Genevieve.
The day before the balloon launch, Ashley again turned to her friends and family and asked them to perform small acts of kindness to memorialize her daughter. This time she requested they share their good deeds on her Facebook page.
Within 20 minutes of the post, she received 54 “likes.” Soon after, Suspended Coffees, a movement that promotes “pay-it-forward” acts of kindness, contacted Ashley via Facebook requesting to tell Vivienne’s story to its nearly 250,000 followers. Ashley agreed, and within the next hour, there were 500 “shares.”
It didn’t stop. Before long, Ashley was getting 80 to 100 alerts at a time on the Facebook app on her phone.
“I couldn’t keep up,” Ashley said. “Every 10 minutes, my phone was updating with more and more. It was very overwhelming.”
That night, she decided to create a Facebook page titled, “Vivienne’s RAOK,” referring to random acts of kindness.
When she woke up on Jan. 16, the one-year mark, there were 700 shares, and by noon, 1,000. As of this past Tuesday, there were more than 5,300.
The Rosenbrocks began charting a map of response locations. By Monday night, people from all 50 states and 13 countries were “liking” their efforts.
Eric said someone in Hawaii, who shared that they had lost a child, paid for another couple’s dinner. A soldier in Afghanistan was planning to get his buddies together to do something.
Closer to home, people have left scratch-off tickets on car windshields, taped gas cards to gas pumps at local convenience stores and shoveled driveways for neighbors.
One young woman with children told Ashley she had never connected with her elderly neighbors before, so she made some baked goods and had her kids distribute them. Someone else organized a meal schedule for a father and daughter undergoing cancer treatments.
“We had a lot of people say they had always wanted to do something like this but they never have, which to us was a little bit boggling to see 5,000 people just jump in so willingly to join us,” Ashley said.
The Rosenbrocks have been doing their part to promote kindness, too. They made up little cards that read, “You’ve been RAOK’ed (Random Acts of Kindness) in honor of Vivienne Eloise. Post all photos to Facebook or Instagram and add #vivienneRAOK.”
Their oldest daughter, Madeline, 5, made a donation to a homeless shelter. The family gave out two $10 Walmart gift cards, left an extra tip at lunch and bought a cookie for some girls at a Panera Bread restaurant.
Eric said he knows he and his wife didn’t originate the concept of random acts of kindness but they “leaned on” the idea to help them at a time they needed it. He also said neither had any intention of publicizing their efforts, but through the initiative, people who have lost children have reached out to them.
“If there’s a moment where we can make somebody else feel OK, I think that’s what random acts of kindness is all about,” he said.
The community of Corinth will now be reminded yearly to show benevolence toward others.
Kate Halliday, a bookkeeper for the town who knows the Rosenbrocks personally, said she asked for, and received, a proclamation declaring Jan. 16 as Random Acts of Kindess Day.
“Here was a family that was hit with a really horrific tragedy. I’ve gone through a lot of personal tragedy also … but to see someone take something like this and turn it around and make it positive, I just felt they needed the personal recognition,” Halliday said.
The bookkeeper already has undertaken her own act of kindness for someone, but she wanted it to remain a secret.
“I don’t want them to know where it came from,” she said.