Shayley Akers is known for her random acts of kindness — even now, nearly five years since she passed away. And on Aug. 31 in Missouri, her memory will live on in a unique way.
SB 72, signed into law by Gov. Mike Parson earlier this month, contained a myriad of state designations, including Random Acts of Kindness Day. Missourians are encouraged to change lives through small acts of generosity and goodwill on Aug. 31 — something Akers was known to do.
The Random Acts of Kindness Day is a way to honor Akers who died by suicide on Aug. 31, 2016, at the age of 19. It also marks the day before the beginning of Suicide Prevention Month in September.
Lela Thompson started a Random Acts of Kindness Day in her home of Washington County in 2017 and watched as similar days exploded across the state and country. She began to work to get it recognized at the state level, patiently waiting each year as it was derailed by politics or the COVID-19 pandemic.
But this year, with her son Brady by her side and a picture of her daughter in her arms, Thompson watched as Parson signed the bill recognizing Aug. 31 as Random Acts of Kindness Day into law — just two weeks before Akers’ birthday.
“She was so giving,” Thompson said of her daughter. “We wanted to do something that paid honor to that part of her and also helped people. The people we talk to who need help always say they feel so alone. We want to make sure they know they aren’t the only ones who have ever felt this way, and they’re not the only ones who are going to feel this way. They aren’t alone.”
Even after Akers’ death, strangers will still contact Thompson about little acts of kindness they received from her daughter. One person told Thompson about how Akers would give her compliments while others in school would bully her; another recounted how Akers took off her necklace and gave it to her after she had said she liked it.
Thompson, a kindergarten teacher at Kingston K-14, said she has learned a lot about mental health and suicide prevention over the past few years. She started Shayley’s Angels, a non-profit organization seeking to raise awareness and provide service for people who live in rural areas or have lower incomes.
From Cadet, Thompson said she had to travel more than an hour to seek mental health care following her daughter’s death. And for some, that distance and time could be impossible.
Additionally, Shayley’s Angels provides resources, including tips on how to make it through an anxiety attack, and sponsors a billboard in Washington County that says “Depression is an illness and not a weakness.” The billboard, which includes hotline numbers, has saved at least one woman’s life, Thompson said.
Rep. Mike McGirl of HD 118 championed the Random Acts of Kindness Day through the legislative process.
“Without the dedication of Lela Thompson, this bill would not have become law. I sincerely appreciate her efforts to memorialize those precious lives lost to suicide and to prevent further tragedies from occurring,” McGirl said.
“Participation in Random Acts of Kindness Day will help us raise awareness and promote Missouri’s ongoing suicide prevention efforts,” Parson said. “A random act of kindness CAN make a big difference.”
Thompson is encouraging Missourians to give even a smile on Aug. 31.
“If anyone is struggling, this lets them know they’re not alone,” Thompson said.
Editor’s Note: The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a hotline for individuals in crisis or for those looking to help someone else. To speak with a certified listener, call 1-800-273-8255.
Additionally, the Crisis Text Line is a texting service for emotional crisis support. To speak with a trained listener, text HELLO to 741741. It is free, available 24/7, and confidential.
Kaitlyn Schallhorn is the editor of The Missouri Times. She joined the newspaper in early 2019 after working as a reporter for Fox News in New York City.
Throughout her career, Kaitlyn has covered political campaigns across the U.S., including the 2016 presidential election, and humanitarian aid efforts in Africa and the Middle East.
She is a native of Missouri who studied journalism at Winthrop University in South Carolina. She is also an alumna of the National Journalism Center in Washington, D.C.
Contact Kaitlyn at email@example.com.