Alivia Talley smiles. That’s what 14-year-olds do.
But when she thinks about her best friend, Jeffrey Williams, who died two years ago from carbon monoxide poisoning at a Boone, N.C., motel, Alivia’s smile drops some. She gets sad, because she is a kid and she loved Jeffrey the way kids who grew up together love each other.
She wants the memory to never die.
“He was my really close friend, and carbon monoxide killed him,” Alivia said. “I never ever want anyone else to die from it.”
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The June 2013 death of 11-year-old Jeffrey – and the deaths of Daryl and Shirley Jenkins of Washington state at the same motel two months before – were blamed on a shoddy pool heater that leaked the killer gas into their rooms. A national outrage and call for change followed.
Police and prosecutors charged the motel owner with manslaughter in connection with the deaths. The Williams family and the family of the other victims claim in lawsuits that the motel, the workers who installed the heater, and regulatory agencies failed to protect those who died.
But lawsuits and courtrooms and potential prison terms are not what Alivia and her gang of great friends are all about.
They are about Jeffrey.
They are about the future.
So Alivia and her friends from a Rock Hill homeschool group decided to bake cookies and brownies and cupcakes to sell, and use the proceeds to buy carbon monoxide detectors so other kids don’t have to die from the invisible killer.
“He was special,” Alivia said of Jeffrey. “He inspired me to be a better person in my whole life. He would have wanted us to try to help people.”
Dozens of homeschoolers teamed up to sell the baked goods last week and this week. It is not huge money. The first sale took in $204. Another sale on Wednesday drew about the same.
Carbon monoxide detectors are sold for around $20 at hardware and home improvement stores.
“Every life saved counts,” said Alivia.
Sadler Jones, 13, also grew up with Jeffrey and attended many of the same homeschool activities.
“Jeffrey was a great guy,” said Sadler, “and I miss him.”
Parents help the teens with the sales, but the kids are doing most of the work.
Jeffrey was the kids’ friend. They want to help their way.
So they are.
Alivia and Sadler, and Andrea Upham, Morgan Lane, Jacob Morris, Thomas Gallagher, Jonathan Source, Hannah Forehand, Isabel Thibodeau, Katie Glen, Daniel Bach and Gabriel Laney.
All the money goes to the Jeffrey Lee Williams Foundation, a nonprofit started by the Jeffrey’s family to raise awareness about the dangers of the carbon monoxide. The gas is odorless and colorless. And it is deadly.
The foundation’s goal is simple: Put carbon monoxide detectors in as many places as possible so no other family has to endure the pain of a death that did not need to happen. The foundation has received big grants – $30,000 from Firehouse Subs, for example – and made a big push in South Carolina, giving away more than 1,000 detectors. A local push soon will come to York County.
November is carbon monoxide awareness month in South Carolina. Jeffrey’s family pushed for that designation and got it.
Other events are planned, too. Jeffrey’s legacy – and the publicity that comes from such a terrible death – will save other kids’ lives.
But this tiny bake sale is just as important as any event, said Jeannie Williams, Jeffrey’s mother. Because it came from the kids who knew Jeffrey and loved Jeffrey.
“It’s their big hearts, sharing love for Jeffrey,” Williams said as she took pictures and thanked the kids. “We all want the same thing: To keep it from happened to other families.”
Alivia and her friends decided not to use price tags for this sale. Donations, they said, come from the purse and wallet – but mostly from the heart. Said Alivia:
“Jeffrey would have wanted us to do this.”
Andrew Dys: 803-329-4065
Want to help?
To learn more about the Jeffrey Lee Williams Foundation, go to jeffreysfoundation.org.