BURRILLVILLE – A tragic car accident on Route 102 on July 11, 2013 undoubtedly had the potential to leave behind friends, family and a community steeped in sorrow and mourning.
Instead, the death of 18-year-old Shannon Heil has inspired an international movement based solely on kindness, joy and investment in humanity.
It was exactly one year after her death – on July 11, 2014 – that her father, Brian Heil, launched the first, “Share for Shannon” challenge, asking loved ones to honor his daughter’s memory by paying it forward.
“It was basically a challenge to her friends to take that sadness and that energy, and turn it into something positive,” Heil told NRI NOW this week.
Since then, thousands of people across the world have benefitted from the scholarships, grants and random acts of kindness performed in Shannon’s name.
“What I’m trying to do is create a movement that creates goodness in the world,” Heil said.
On Sunday, July 9, those who have been affected and inspired by the Share for Shannon movement gathered to celebrate their achievements, and to continue to spread the message of joy learned from Heil’s brief, but clearly impactful, life.
Brian noted that the Share for Shannon campaign graduated – from a way to help loved ones process their own grief in a positive way into a movement with worldwide potential – in the months leading up to her second heavenly birthday in 2015.
A local Pinkberry frozen yogurt shop had launched a new flavor, named after Shannon, and Brian found himself sitting in the store, explaining again and again what it meant to, “pay it forward.”
“It was very frustrating,” he said.
It was that frustration that led Heil to create the FierceMob and Share for Shannon coupons, encouraging any and everyone to perform an immediate – and random – act of kindness. The coupons are passed along and shared with recipients and challenges holders to use that flash moment, wherever they are, to create, “ripples of kindness in the world.”
In 2015, Brian and that Fiercemob inspired by his daughter’s life launched a memorial road race. They also began the, “Fierce Elves Christmas Grocery Giveaway,” picking up the tab for random customers at local supermarkets.
The following year, director Christian de Rezendes released Fueling Fierce, the Shannon Heil Story, an award-winning short about how people chose to honor her death by inspiring and investing in humanity.
In 2020, what was now the 501c3, “Fierce for Shannon Foundation,” launched organizational awards, investing in other local non-profits that do good work. And in 2021, they began the, “competitor awards,” honoring individuals who are pushing themselves beyond their natural capabilities.
“I’m hoping to inspire them to continue what they’re doing at a high level,” Heil said.
There’s also the Shannon Heil Scholarships – awarded a bit differently than the methods used by most charitable organizations. In place of an application process, Heil accepts nominations from teachers, counselors and others in search of a student with, “unrealized potential,’ a young person who could use a boost of confidence to help them succeed.
As with everything else, Heil explains, the scholarship process honors his daughter by carrying on her attributes; in this case by building relationships, just as Shannon always made connections with people.
Another attribute Shannon lived by, he notes, was randomness.
“She’d just walk up to someone and say, ‘tell me about yourself,'” Heil said.
Proponents, like Shannon, also aim to be fierce and live life with passion – just like the time she took an interest in competitive cheerleading at age 11 and marched into a room full of cheer enthusiasts who had practiced since early youth, asking to join the squad.
Heil points to the moments in life when you have a chance to make an impact.
“You have this capability to say ‘how can I help you?’ What impact can I have by being bold enough to invest in someone else?” he said. “Do we ignore those moments? It could change their perspective on life.”
A grassroots organization focused on building these kinds of connections, the foundation encourages all individuals to inspire and invest in humanity.
The FierceMob marks the day of Shannon’s death, July 11, with a push for kind acts, but calls on people year-round to refocus some of their time to make moments count, creating an impact through gestures both large – like the time he sent a family in need 100 gallons of oil – and small – like a conversation with a stranger who could use a pick-me-up.
“I’m motivating people to take that moment to redirect their energy into something good,” Heil said. “Shannon is the catalyst for that dynamic giving.”
With the motto, “the sole meaning of life is to serve humanity,” to date, the foundation has invested more than $118,000 through scholarships, needs-based grants and random acts of kindness.
In a new initiative this year, Share for Shannon coupons will be printed on placemats in restaurants across New England.
“Tear out the coupon below and perform a random act of kindness. Now!” the print instructs. Diners, Heil hopes, will see the unique ads, “then they start looking around and saying ‘who do we want to do this for?’
On Sunday, the FierceMob took over the Stillwater Mill Pavilion in Harrisville for the Fierce Benefit Musicfest, handing out free small bags of kettlekorn and bottles of water. The event featured The Black Lights, Collision, Crimson Rain and 3 Legged Dog, with special guest Fierce DJ Johnny, with all proceeds supporting the Fierce for Shannon Foundation.
The event was open to the public, and those who have benefitted or been inspired by the movement were particularly encouraged to visit and share their story.
“I’m hoping some of the people we’ve encountered with all of this show up,” Heil said prior to the event.
The concert was a lead up to the tenth anniversary of Shannon’s death, on Tuesday, July 11, 2023.
“The whole idea behind this is to try to motivate people to go out on Tuesday and pay it forward,” Heil said.
It’s a movement of love and compassion Heil hopes will inspire others who have suffered loss. He notes that in some cases, people who have been through trauma, such as the loss of a child, have never fully recovered.
“Is that a sacrifice your loved one would be happy you took?” Heil asked.
“That was three seconds of Shannon’s life,” Heil said of the accident. “If I focus on that three seconds, I’m not doing anything positive.”
He calls on people to refocus their hearts away from sadness, and onto doing something for someone else.
“I would never accept the word, ‘sorrow,’ in my life,” he said. “If I did, I would not live the life that Shannon would ever want me to have.”
“What I’m doing is honoring Shannon with an act of love,” Brian said. “That’s something that people can feel, and can continue and perpetuate into the world.”
“I cling to the word, ‘joy,'” Heil said. “There’s no better thing to do than to have joy and love in this world.”
To learn more visit fierceforshannon.org.