Ellie Elizabeth Wyble would be 6 years old in her home in Severna Forest; a first-grader painting a shoebox red and making personalized heart-shaped love notes for her entire class in anticipation of Valentine’s Day. But she never got the chance. She only lived two and a half months.
What can be done in only two and a half months? Retailers have Christmas merchandise on their shelves longer than two and a half months. A high school sports season is longer than two and a half months, and buyers can wait longer than that for their new vehicle to be delivered. Two and a half months can pass in the blink of an eye.
In 2016, Matt and Ashleigh Wyble’s second child was born. She was just learning to smile, giggle and show her joyful personality when she suddenly, and unexplainably, died.
At that time, Matt said there were two ways to react to the tragedy.
“Option one was to dig a hole and hide in it, and option two was to dig a hole and build a garden for the world to see,” Matt explained in 2016. “It took 24 hours for Ashleigh and me to realize we were option two people.”
A GoFundMe was created to fund a garden and meditation labyrinth at Woods Memorial Presbyterian Church. What started as a $5,000 goal tuned into a $20,000 success.
Their shock in grief turned into motivation to support other parents who, in the blink of an eye, experience the loss of a child. The For Ellie Foundation was created, and once again, the tiny child named after her grandmother was bringing light and kindness into the world.
Ellie’s Cart of Hope filled with toys, games and therapy aids was created at Anne Arundel Medical Center, along with a $20,000 donation. With more donations coming in, a second Ellie’s Cart and a book cart were purchased for the pediatric unit at Baltimore Washington Medical Center (BWMC). The foundation also created Hope Totes for parents who are without essential items during hospital stays.
The Wybles could have stopped after a year of deep community outreach, but like baby Ellie, the foundation was barely getting started.
A year after the completion of the garden at Woods, a child-sized bench was added. Each year, moonflower vines are planted on either side of the bench to act as trellises. By late summer, several large moonflowers are in bloom. The Wyble family will often visit the garden while enjoying a lunch or a cold evening dessert together, and walk the labyrinth. Evening visits of the moonflowers in bloom allow the family to unwind and enjoy the serenity of Ellie’s garden.
“Matt and I continue to be surprised and amazed by the community’s support of the For Ellie Foundation,” Ashleigh said. “We had no idea what this endeavor would turn into in the immediacy, and especially now more than six years later. We are so grateful that we are still able to spread kindness and help our community.”
More than 1,900 Hope Totes have been delivered to Luminis Health Anne Arundel Medical Center and University of Maryland Baltimore Washington Medical Center combined. The For Ellie Foundation continues to fundraise through what’s become its signature event, a cornhole tournament, raising at least $10,000 each year. The next tournament is scheduled for March 11. Proceeds will benefit BWMC’s pediatric unit and the Safe Sleep Kit initiative that aims to reduce sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) deaths in the area.
“As our mission says, we are just trying to make the world a more beautiful place,” said Ashleigh, who still remembers the kindness that she and Matt were shown during the hours with Ellie in the hospital and following her death. “There is no such thing as too much kindness. We will get notes from parents who have received a Hope Tote, thanking us for making their stressful stay a little more manageable. The child life specialists and nurses at both hospitals tell us often how much joy the toys and games bring to the kids. Knowing that what we are doing is really making an impact keeps us going.”
Luke Wyble was just two and a half years old when his sister died. With his parents’ altruism as an example, kindness isn’t just something the 8-year-old does, it’s part of who he is.
“We will be out, and he will ask to do a random act of kindness for a stranger,” Ashleigh said. “He very much remembers his sister and still gets sad from time to time. We try to remind him that sometimes bad things will happen, but it’s how you react to that situation that makes a difference.”
The Wybles are teaching Luke, along with his 4-year-old brother, Cooper, that there can never be enough kindness in the world.
Since 2016, the For Ellie Foundation has raised more than $285,000 through a variety of avenues, such as donating funds to the Luminis Health Anne Arundel Medical Center pediatric unit.
To donate to the For Ellie Foundation or to register for the cornhole tournament, visit www.forellie.org.
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