Remembering Lexi, one kindness at a time

Remembering Lexi, one kindness at a time

An elderly woman gets help with her groceries from a young stranger and his girlfriend.

A harried mom in line at the Starbucks drive-through learns that the college student in front of her has paid her bill.

A disheartened freshman struggling with college finds an upperclassman to lean on.

All three “random acts of kindness” — spurred by a project in University of Illinois professor Laura Payne’s marketing class — were part of a campaign to honor a Lemont High School senior killed by a train last year.

Lexi Turner was walking near her home on Sept. 2, 2015, when she was hit by a Metra train headedBlog Photo to Joliet. The tracks were right across the street from her house, which sits on a busy street with no sidewalks, and Lexi and her friends were used to taking that path on their walks, according to her mom, Amy Persak Turner.

But on this day Lexi, like many teens, was listening to music on her earbuds. She never heard the express train approaching, said Payne, a close friend of Amy Turner.

The family had been through a lot already; in April, Lexi and her two sisters lost their father, George Turner, when he died unexpectedly.

As the anniversary of Lexi’s accident approached this year, Amy Turner was filled with dread.

To help her cope, some friends helped her come up with the campaign to remember Lexi and promote awareness of train safety and the dangers of “distracted walking” — by asking people to spread kindness, one human being to another, and share it on social media. September is also Rail Safety Month.

They created a website and the hashtag #RAKLexiTurner and promoted it on Facebook.

It hit home with Payne, an avid bicyclist who sees UI students biking or walking across campus every day while fiddling with their phones or listening to music -- and not paying attention to traffic.Blog Photo

She also witnessed a 2004 accident where a 21-year-old UI student was hit and killed by a bus at the corner of Gregory Street and Goodwin Avenue — the third fatality around campus in a 15-month span at the time.

“It was just terrible,” Payne said. “There’s just so much distracted everything.”

To Turner’s delight, she decided to make the campaign the first assignment for students in her recreation, sport and tourism marketing class. It was a great way for them to apply their knowledge of “cause-related” public relations — and just do something nice, she said.

“We need that in the world more now than ever,” she said.

Payne was touched by the responses. One student and his girlfriend noticed an older woman loaded down with groceries on their bus, so they got off with her and helped carry them into the house.

“Most people don’t do this,” the stunned woman told the students.

UI senior Tina Park wasn’t sure what to do until she remembered the time she got up to the cash Blog Photoregister at Starbucks and found that the person in front of her had already paid her bill.

“I was having a very bad day that day,” she said, and it made a big impression.

She decided to pay it forward. She drove through Starbucks and paid for the customer behind her.

“When I looked back there was a lady in the car, she seemed really frazzled. There were kids in the back. I thought, ‘OK, why not do something nice for her?’ ”

She drove off before seeing the woman’s reaction, but “I would hope she felt the same way I did when it happened to me.”

Senior Malik Dillard, who sometimes provides free haircuts to students through a campus organization, recalled the conversation he had with a customer who was struggling to adapt to college.

“I basically opened my doors to him and told him he could come to me if he had any questions Blog Photoor wanted to hang out,” Dillard said. “My freshman year was really tough for me. I almost dropped out because of financial aid and grades and feeling like an outsider. I’m just trying to help any way I can to lower the number of people who are put in those circumstances.”

Mitchell Fransen, a UI junior, decided to promote the safety campaign heavily through his Twitter account. He completed his Twitter thread by describing a gesture he’d made the day before, holding the door for a little girl and her grandma with their service dog. It was a small thing, he said, but may have just made their day a little better.

Fransen liked the Turner family’s approach — not just remembering Lexi but raising awareness and “taking action for the good.”

“Here’s this vibrant, normal girl who lived a pretty happy life, and it’s just taken instantly,” he said. The campaign allows people to think about the impact of her life, he said.Blog Photo

Payne’s students said they could relate to the safety issue, too. When Park was little, she and her friends used to play by the train tracks near her church, despite warnings from their parents.

“It made me kind of think, ‘It really can happen to anyone.’ I’m lucky it didn’t happen to me,” she said.

Park also uses her earbuds “all the time,” though she now tries to leave one bud out.

“Even when I’m just walking to class, I turn on my music really loud, and I don’t hear anything,” she said.

Dillard sees students crossing the street with headphones on or looking down at their phone, “and they don’t even look up. So I try not to do it. I really think it’s a good idea to bring awareness to the smallest things that can be life-altering.”

All the students said the project made them want to go out of their way to help others on a daily basis.

“It gives you a different perspective about a random act of kindness and how you could actually step forward and just improve someone’s day, be it small or large,” Fransen said.

Dillard encouraged others to follow suit.

“Let’s acknowledge each other as human beings and lend a hand. It’s part of human nature to look out for each other, in my opinion. I try to do it every day. That’s how I was raised,” he said.

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Social media movement gives mom something to lean on

The #RAK/LexiTurner campaign has inspired more than 200 acts of kindness, judging by social media posts, said Lexi’s mother, Amy Persak Turner.

It’s reached around the world to Germany, Bali, Australia and Ecuador.

WGN-TV did a story about the campaign on Sept. 2, and several of Turner’s teacher-friends adopted it for their classrooms.

Projects range from cooking dinner for the elderly to delivering flowers to friends to volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House. One volunteer slipped a $20 bill inside a library book with a note reading, “#RAKLexiTurner. Search Facebook to read her story.”

Turner plans to continue it for a full year, then compile a book about all the acts of kindness inspired by her daughter.

Lexi, the oldest of three sisters, was smart, giving, trustworthy and honest, “a best friend to all of her friends,” her mom said.

“She lit up the room when she’d walk in. Her laugh was contagious,” she said.

“If this didn’t come about, I’d just be crying my eyes out right now. It’s nice that I have something to be happy about.”

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Julie Wurth blogs about kids and families and covers the University of Ilinois for The News-Gazette. Leavea  comment below, or contact her at 217-351-5226, jwurth@news-gazette.com or Twitter.com/jawurth.

Photos:

1. Lexi Turner, top left, and her three sisters. Photo provided.

2. Laura Payne talks with students in her classroom at the UI Armory in Champaign on Sept. 9, 2016.   Heather Coit/The News-Gazette.

3. UI students Tina Park, Malik Dillard and Mitchell Fransen (top to bottom) talk about the #RAK/LexiTurner campaign in Laura Payne's class on Sept. 9, 2016. Photos by Heather Coit and Julie Wurth/The News-Gazette

  

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