Five years ago today the country was rocked with news of a late-night shooting that killed 12 and injured 70 others in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater. For Jerri Jackson, however, it feels like a lifetime. Her 27-year-old son, Matt McQuinn, lost his life shielding his girlfriend from gunfire during the shooting.
To honor Matt’s memory and his spirit of kindness, Jerri established the Matt McQuinn Acts of Kindness Foundation, a Charitable Checking Account through the Vandalia-Butler Foundation of The Dayton Foundation in 2014. She wants him to be remembered for his heroic actions, but more importantly as someone who always would do little things to brighten someone’s day. She is carrying out his legacy by helping others through her fund and by inspiring individuals to do good deeds in his name.
Please share a little about Matt and your family. What was he most passionate about during his life?
Q: Matt first lived in Springfield then we moved to Vandalia when he was in the sixth grade. He struggled through school but flourished once he graduated.
A: Matt loved being around people. He and his brother were very close. They were two years apart in age but only one grade separated them in school, so they shared many of the same friends. He also had a special relationship with his grandfather and considered him to be one of his best friends. Matt attended Maiden Lane Church of God, where he played guitar in the worship band throughout high school and into early adulthood. Overall, he just loved life and laughing. You never knew what he would say next.
Q: Was Matt living in Colorado at the time of the tragedy?
A: Yes. He and his girlfriend, Samantha Yowler, recently had moved to Colorado. Her brother, Nick, was living there and had wanted Samantha to move there for several years.
Q: Why did you decide to honor his memory with a fund through the Vandalia-Butler Foundation of The Dayton Foundation?
A: Since Matt went to school in Vandalia and graduated from Vandalia-Butler High School, I felt the Vandalia-Butler Foundation was the right place to open the fund. He and his brother spent many nights playing ball at the sports complex, basketball in the school gym and riding bikes throughout Vandalia.
Q: Why did you include “Acts of Kindness” in the name of the fund?
A: Several days after Matt’s death, stories from friends and coworkers started flowing in about how he would say or do something to lift someone’s spirit. Examples included helping his supervisor while on break, making someone laugh or texting friends just to check on them. While in Denver to pack up his apartment, we met with his former supervisor and human resource manager. They mentioned that they needed another Matt — someone who would keep the morale up. He was always doing small things to brighten friends’ and coworkers’ days.
Q: How are you raising funds?
A: We hold an annual 5K in Matt’s name every May, as well as a bowling fundraiser. We currently are working on additional ideas to help generate more funds.
We also have a Facebook page dedicated to Matt’s memory that also encourages “kindness” acts. Some examples include a man changing a tire for a stranded mother and instead of accepting payment, he asked her to deliver a pizza to a local fire station. Another young woman paid for someone’s coffee one morning, which helped spur a generosity chain that spanned two hours. These are just a few of the acts of kindness that have been carried out in his memory.
Q: What do you like best about working with The Dayton Foundation?
A: Everyone has been so great to work with at the Foundation. I never feel like I’m bothering anyone. In fact, I feel that they are glad to hear from me. The Dayton Foundation answers our questions and has helped get the word out about the fund. I would not have been able to do this on my own.
Q: What inspires you about this community?
A: I was born and raised in Springfield. Matt was born in Springfield but also raised in Vandalia. Vandalia is a welcoming community, not just a neighborhood. It is very family-oriented. The teachers my sons had while at Morton Middle School and Vandalia-Butler High School really seemed to care.
I was also touched by the kindness we experienced after Matt’s passing. A restaurant in town approached me about having all of its employees wear t-shirts with the Batman symbol on the front and “In memory of Matt McQuinn” on the back. When the funeral procession was on the way to the cemetery, we drove past the restaurant. They had recognized Matt on the marquee.
Q: With today being the fifth anniversary of his passing, how do you wish Matt to be remembered?
A: My wish is for Matt to be remembered as someone who gave his life while protecting someone else and who always encouraged others. It also would be nice if everyone carried out an act of kindness in his memory today to help keep his spirit of giving alive.
Q: How would you complete this sentence, “My giving makes me feel____”?
A: … like I’m making a difference by encouraging others to do random acts of kindness while keeping Matt’s legacy alive.
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The Dayton Foundation has been helping people help others since 1921 by managing charitable funds, awarding grants to nonprofits and launching community initiatives. Contact the Foundation at (937) 222-0410 or visit www.daytonfoundation.org.