Kid in The Corner

Do you know someone who feels alone? Do you have someone in your life; your child, your student, a friend, a partner, or someone you pass by occasionally, that you can tell is suffering?

Last weekend I had the honor of performing at a benefit for Kid in The Corner and I MUST SHARE their mission and message of kindness, inclusion, community, and hope. This organization exists because of one parent’s worst nightmare. 

Please stay with me and read this to the end and then hopefully you’ll be moved to take some action, no action is too small, to reach out to someone who may be struggling with this life. Even if that someone is you, it still counts. Personally, when I’m down just the act of helping someone else keeps me going for at least the rest of the day.

If you are a teacher or community leader anywhere in the world, please consider bringing Kid in the Corner out to share their important work toward ending the stigma around mental illness. Contact info is here.

The story of how Kid in The Corner came to be:

On June 13, 2017, we lost Zach Sumner to suicide.

“This heartbreaking tragedy rocked our community to its core. In the days and weeks that followed, stories emerged about how Zachary was always looking out for and reaching out to the kid in the corner, those kids who felt alone and isolated. He touched more people in his short life than most people ever do. Zach was a giver with a keen eye for those in need. Yet sadly, he didn’t feel the reciprocation when he himself became the kid in the corner. We believe that through education, awareness, kindness, and community connectedness, we can help change the story for the next Kid in the Corner. Our vow to Zach is to honor his legacy by continuing the incredibly important work he started.” Francine Sumner, Zach’s mother

On Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018, the first fundraiser event was held. Performers from every corner of Phoenix and one from L.A. came together in the hopes of raising money to keep their message going anywhere it needs to be heard. 

Following is an excerpt from Zach’s Mom, Francine, speech to all of us, audience and performers that night. 

Welcome back! Thank you all so much for coming tonight!

I can’t begin to tell you how amazing and overwhelming it is to have you all here tonight with me. With us.

…My son Zachary…is the reason we’re here. He’s the inspiration for Kid in the Corner. 

 I would give anything—my money, my home, my possessions, even my own life—to have Zachary with us here tonight. But that’s not gonna happen. 

Let me tell you why Zachary’s the inspiration for KITC…. 

We started KITC to shatter the stigma and start difficult conversations about mental illness. But it is also about kindness. Contagious kindness. Because that’s Zachary. All the time. Every day. It wasn’t pre-planned, and it wasn’t for attention. It’s just who he was.

Just a couple of quick examples 

  1. All through school ……His best friend all the way through school was Jake. Jake has Autism. Zachary was always looking out for him: he would accompany him anywhere—to class, to the bathroom, to lunch every single day. Every Friday, we would go to the Dollar Store so Zach could buy things each week to motivate Jake to behave well and do his work. When he was 13, he created a team for the Walk for Autism and raised the most money of any individual that year. Trust me, Jake never felt alone. 
  1. I just used the phrase, “contagious kindness.” Let me tell you what I mean by that;  One night, my daughter Gabrielle …. pulled into a Circle K to get gas, and she saw Zach in the far corner of the parking lot, so she went to see what he was doing. He had just gotten meals for a family that was homeless. And my daughter thought, “I’m not gonna let my little brother upstage me. I’m going to go buy a meal for a homeless family too.” And she did. Contagious kindness at its finest.
  1. Another time, Zach, my daughter, and I were shopping. Zach was bored, so he went over to the pet store next door. When we were done, Zach was nowhere to be found. After waiting a while, we were getting impatient, so we went into the pet store to look for him. He was at the cash register checking out. We walked outside, and he walked right over to a Humane Society drive and handed them a bag that included every item on their wish list. And he walked away and said, “Have a nice day.” The woman there said, “Is this your son?” I said yes, and she said, “You should be really proud of him.”

I could go one. There are so many stories just like these. These are only some stories that I knew about. After he died, I learned of a lot more. And I’m sure there are so many stories like these that I will never know about.

So After his very first breakdown, when I heard him say through tears , “I care so much about other people, why doesn’t anyone care about me?” You can imagine how excruciating that was for me. 

This of course was not true. But he felt so alone. He felt like the Kid in the Corner. He was the Kid in the Corner.

So, what can we do?

 How do we make sure kids don’t ask that same question? 

Through education, through promoting contagious kindness, and through making sure kids have the right resources. They need to know it’s okay not to be okay, and that it’s a strength to be able to ask for help. 

That’s KITC’s mission. We believe that we can make a difference in every school, to every student, every teacher, every parent, and every community leader. Invite us to come to your school, community center, church, or synagogue so we can tell our story. So we can begin to change the culture  

I make this pledge to you tonight—I will make a difference. I will fight like hell—with every ounce of strength that I possess—to make sure that what happened to my family never happens to yours or your loved ones.

But you people aren’t off the hook. I want you to make a pledge tonight too. 

Zach was a coin collector. When he died, we found thousands of pennies he had collected. We decided to drill holes in them and wear them as a reminder to live our lives the way that he did. This simple act of wearing a penny has turned into one of the cornerstones of our organization. When we go to schools, we have the kids take the penny pledge: 

We pledge to reach out to people—people who are new, who are down, who have been absent. 

We pledge to take care of our own mental health, to reach out for help when we need it. 

And we pledge to wear our pennies as a physical sign to others that we will always be a safe and caring person that they can come to. 

Now it’s your turn. Take out the pennies from the bags inside your envelopes. Put them around your neck,

Everyone ready? Hold onto your penny, and repeat after me:

The Penny Pledge is here!

My hope for the new year is that you all wear your pennies proudly. Go out and make a difference for the next kid in the corner! Help continue Zach’s legacy.

Thank you all so much,

Enjoy the rest of the show.

Kindness is ultimately the mission for every single human being. Now, more than ever. As a parent, as someone’s child, as a teacher, and as a citizen, I’m inspired to help change pain. I wasn’t able to help my own father’s, who died by suicide, but maybe I can aid in easing someone else’s. Please feel free to reach out to me directly – to help you bring Kid in The Corner to your school or community or if you’d just like me to listen. Karensuzanneburns@gmail.com. KITC email: kidinthecorner2017@gmail.com

There is a resource section on their website if you. or someone you know, is in crisis.

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Sarah Sandock
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Karen,
This is an amazing piece and thank you for sharing it! I’m absolutely with you on spreading kindness and reaching out. I make it a point to always address workers who wear name tags in stores and its amazing how much that tiny gesture means to people. It’s the small stuff.

Jeff J
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Jeff J

Thank you for sharing this, I really enjoy reading your blog, but this one particularly hit home. My wife teaches in the Kyrene district, I’m going to share this post with her tonight, I think her students would really benefit!