Baumhower: Magical, mighty MylesWritten by Jeremy Baumhower | | firstname.lastname@example.org
A beautiful thing happened on the way to a Cracker Barrel.
I envision this all beginning like the floating feather in the movie “Forrest Gump.” A $20 bill magically leaves a wallet or a purse and floats around the sky until it decides to land in front of a young child, an 8-year-old boy named Myles Eckert.
Young Myles hit the child’s version of a winning scratcher that brisk Friday morning. There are only a few ways children gain money: birthdays, holidays, crazy aunts and losing teeth. The fact that this wasn’t a special day and he maintained all of his teeth made the discovery of a greenback all the more meaningful.
Myles instantly imagined the various ways this newfound fortune could be spent. For about two minutes, or the time it took his family to walk inside the restaurant, Myles fantasized about playing the soon-to-be-purchased “LEGO Movie” Xbox 360 game.
Myles’ mental shopping spree ended when he noticed a man in uniform eating lunch with his family.
What happened next is now Cracker Barrel lore. Myles asked his mom for a piece of paper and a pencil. She found a small piece of yellow paper and obliged his request. Little did he or anybody else know that the following words he put down on that piece of paper would change so many lives:
“Dear Soldier, My dad was a soldier. He’s in heaven now. I found this $20 in the parking lot when we got here. We like to pay it forward in my family. It’s your lucky day! Thank you for your service, Myles Eckert, a gold star kid.”
As Myles summoned the courage to hand Ohio Air National Guard Lt. Col. Frank Dailey the note with the money inside, the same winds that carried the $20 bill to land at his feet had to shift directions once again. Everything changed when Myles paid it forward that day.
Myles’ mom, Tiffany Eckert, had taken him and his sisters, Marlee and Berkley, out to eat that morning as a treat on the canceled school day. Myles’ dad has been missing these small celebrations his entire life.
Myles is the son of the late Army Sgt. Gary “Andy” Eckert, who was killed in Iraq in 2005 when Myles was only 4 weeks old. Andy left behind a wife and two young children. Tiffany went from the wife of a soldier to a single mom of two babies in the flash of a roadside bomb. For the past nine years she has raised her children with simple, beautiful mantras: Kindness always wins, You get better not bitter and Pay it forward.
The world now knows how effective her words and life lessons are.
The beautiful part is how this story went completely viral. Tiffany did not race home to brag on Facebook about her son’s pay-it-forward moment. It was the opposite: Dailey’s family did.
In a very “Forrest Gump” way, the Facebook post from Dailey’s family got the attention of CBS Evening News reporter and former Toledo broadcast reporter Steve Hartman. Hartman’s “On The Road” segment telling Myles’ story has been shared online more than 500,000 times and viewed millions of times. The three-minute video touched every heart that watched it and, soon after, the emails asking for the Eckerts’ address started flooding in to me.
It was just the week before that I had shared the story of Myles’ 10-year-old sister, Marlee, and her misery caused by a father-daughter dance at her school. My email address was the only contact people could find while Googling the story.
As my inbox was flooded with people wanting to send a card, some money and/or a video game, Myles’ mom was politely asking to not have their address shared. She did not allow Myles to tell this story for them to profit in any way. I respected her decision, but that didn’t stop the emails from coming. I finally asked Tiffany if there was a way to turn these people’s thank yous into something bigger. “Every email I receive wants to give Myles money or send a video game,” I told her. “They are not going to stop.” I even offered my help.
Soon random packages started arriving at the children’s school. It was then Tiffany started a conversation with both Myles and Marlee. During the next couple of hours, both children agreed on the way they wanted to pay it all forward again. Tiffany texted me the words “Snowball Express” and the floating money moved once again.
Snowball Express is a national military children’s charity that hosts a weeklong vacation around the holidays for Gold Star children — the military name for children who have lost a parent in the line of duty. The kids get to be around other children dealing with the same loss and it gives all who attend a sense of comfort. It’s a big family. There is no cost for those who attend; even the flight to Dallas is covered. In recent years, funding for this special retreat has gotten scarce. The young Eckerts saw an opportunity with Myles’ newfound viral fame to pay it forward, having no idea what or who would come next.
I set up a Crowdtilt page to collect online donations for Snowball Express in the name of Myles and Marlee and within hours the website’s brass recognized the power behind the message and contacted me. They became a vested partner and a great vehicle for the evolution of Myles’ story.
We now had an address to give those people wanting to send Myles money.
Within a day of the campaign’s launch, Tiffany was flooded with media interview requests. She sent another text to me; this time it contained only one word: “Ellen.”
The Eckerts and Daileys packed up and flew out to Burbank, Calif., on a Tuesday morning to visit the host of the Oscars and the new queen of daytime television, Ellen DeGeneres. Learning of the campaign for the Snowball Express, Ellen had decided she wanted to help Myles pay it forward. If you watched your TV set closely, I swear you could see that $20 dollar float down right onto the set.
But it wasn’t $20 — it was $20,000, a “LEGO Movie” video game, a trip to Legoland and, for the Daileys, a six-night vacation to Hawaii. Ellen won that day — and reminded me that my eyes make water on occasion.
While they were in California, the Eckerts learned of a company that also wanted to help. Dallas-based Highland Capital Management was so moved by this story and the beauty of Snowball Express that it offered to match every dollar donated through Memorial Day, up to $1 million.
The floating $20 bill that started this journey at a Maumee Cracker Barrel and traveled to California and back could end up landing in Dallas as $2 million.
But first, a stop in Washington, D.C.: Myles and his family have received an invitation from First Lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden’s Joining Forces initiative to be a part of the White House Easter Egg Roll. The president of the United States knows about the impromptu summit that happened at a Maumee Cracker Barrel.
Every mile this piece of currency ventured found another floating $20 to join it. In retrospect, it seems Myles is the perfect name for Andy’s son. It only took 8 years and 48 weeks to confirm it.
I learned there are a lot of big hearts and open wallets in this great country. I have also learned the identity of a magical boy from Waterville that has the power to turn a $20 bill into a nation’s restored faith in humanity: “Mighty” Myles Eckert.
Jeremy Baumhower can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @jeremytheproduc.