Hundreds of area residents took part last year in the first Brave Hearts for Strong Minds fundraiser. This year’s event will take place June 15 at LaSalle College High School in Wyndmoor.

by Len Lear

More than 400 children and adults, some as young as two years old, are expected to attend an event in Wyndmoor on Saturday, June 15, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. to honor a great man who died way too young and to learn firsthand about the importance of giving back to the community. They will all walk in support of education funds for children who have lost a parent.

The event, to be held at LaSalle College High School, 8605 Cheltenham Ave. in Wyndmoor, is part of an effort by a local non-profit organization, Brave Hearts for Strong Minds, to gather the community to collect education funds for children who need it the most. “This event,” explained Michael Norton, the group’s executive director, “is our connection to the community, and we are excited to not only spread the word about a great man, Tom Reilly, but also to share what we all knew was his abundant generosity to others.

“Working directly with children who have lost a parent, we have been able to develop an event that not only supports an excellent cause but also provides a day of fun-filled activities for people to enjoy while getting to understand the need for giving back to the community.”

Volunteers who register to walk will receive T-shirts and food but will also get to enjoy music and an assortment of fun activities and games. “This is a great opportunity for our kids,” said Reilly’s widow, Christa, of Fort Washington. “It gives us a chance to allow the kids to remember their father and all of the wonderful things he did for others. He was the type of man who would pull over on the side of the road during a snowstorm to help someone with a flat tire. He always made time for others in need.”

Brave Hearts for Strong Minds (BHSM) was started in 2012 after a beloved community member, Tom Reilly, died of a sudden heart attack on March 29, 2011, at the age of 43, leaving behind his wife and four children, all under the age of 10. In the year that followed, the realization of the struggles Tom’s family now had to endure became evident. One of the most notable of these concerns was the family’s ability to provide financially for the children’s education.

“Reflecting on Tom’s compassion and friendship,” said Joe Spause, a BHSM spokesman (also Tom’s brother-in-law), “we came up with a way to ease the burden for not only Tom’s children but for other families within local communities for generations to come … In addition, this year we are partnering with Cradles to Crayons to collect baby items for their ‘Gear Up for Baby’ drive. Tom would have helped every stranger in the world if he could, and we’d like to continue paying it forward for him now that he is gone.”

Tom Reilly owned his own insulation business and did carpentry work. He was an absolute savant at building things. He and his wife and children lived together, and his family still resides, in Fort Washington, but Tom grew up in Chestnut Hill. One of BHSM’s board members, Daniel Dwyer, also lives in Chestnut Hill.

Starting last year, each year on the Saturday before Father’s Day, BHSM will gather families, friends, local businesses and community members for a day of food, fun, walking and music at LaSalle College High School. The celebration of community culminates by having walkers raise funds on their own personalized participant pages in which all proceeds are donated to education funds for children who have lost a parent. Last year more than 300 men, women and children from all five counties in the region attended, and BHSM hopes to increase that number on June 15.

According to Michael Norton, “Our goal as an organization is to provide educational assistance for as many families that have experienced the loss of a parent as possible by creating a pay-it-forward network. We are asking that those families who receive aid also become brave hearts who work to create strong minds by helping to organize and choose the future events and recipients.”

Last year’s event made an immediate impact on Tom Reilly’s children — Deryn, 10; Liam, 9; Madden, 6, and Molly, 4. “The event,” said Norton, “not only serves to benefit the education fund but also provides a way for the children to remember their father as someone who gave back to the community. After two years, a new family is chosen, and the previous family must ‘pay it forward’ by running the event which helps another family in need.”

Anyone can contribute to the June 15 event by signing up to walk and pledge to raise funds online at www.braveheartsforstrongminds.org. Also, if you know of a family who have suffered the loss of a parent and could benefit from BHSM, you may ask them to complete the new recipient family application on the organization’s website.

For more information, contact Michael Norton at 610-331-4562 or Mike@braveheartsforstrongminds.org.

  • Joe

    Great article and a great cause!