Dave Elchoness wants to see kindness rewarded just as much as academics, with graduating seniors recognized as “kindness valedictorians.”
The idea is his way of continuing his son’s legacy.
“What we really need in the world are people being kind, being compassionate, listening to each other and collaborating,” he said. “Those attributes don’t have an award.”
His son, Peter Bonn-Elchoness, was 17 when he died suddenly in November from myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle typically caused by an infection. He was a senior at Niwot High School who would have graduated this month.
Elchoness and his wife, Eve Bonn, heard story after story of their son’s kindness after he died. Elchoness said he heard from a classmate who Peter protected from bullies by saying, “If you’re going to bully them, you have to bully me.” Another student said Peter saved his life by being there for him when he was considering suicide, while a parent told a story of Peter helping her child through a crisis.
“It turns out that he was doing amazing things,” Elchoness said.
They decided the best way to honor him would be to create The Peter Fund, a nonprofit organization that supports the Kindness Counts awards.
“We want to encourage others to demonstrate the kind of kindness he would have showed,” Elchoness said.
The first set of five awards were given out this month to five Niwot graduating seniors Haylee Matney, Ellie Steele, Henry Stauch, Freddie Ambrose and Phoebe McLean.
Each will receive a $250 gift card, while a $250 donation will be made in their name to a youth-centered nonprofit of their choice. A community party to celebrate the winners is planned for July.
The winners’ nomination letters talked about their compassion, humor, kindness, generosity and inclusiveness. They stuck up for their friends, encouraged others and invited classmates to sit at their lunch table or attend get-togethers.
“The five folks we have chosen are fantastic,” Elchoness said. “It’s just very special to reward them and encourage people to do what Peter was doing and would have kept doing had he lived.”
The winners were chosen by Elchoness, Bonn and Peter’s two brothers, Henry and Charlie. Also on the selection committee were Peter’s friend and Niwot graduating senior Ryan Lady and Niwot High teacher Sarah Demmel.
Lady said he was looking to recognize students like Peter, who are kind, friendly and “would take people under their wing.”
“Peter just cared about making people laugh and smile,” he said. “These awards really represent who he was as a person. It’s something to inspire people to do better in the world.”
Demmel, who taught Peter in two classes, described him as “one of my favorite humans.” In recommending who should win the awards, she was looking for students “who are just nice all the time.”
“They always had a smile on their face, and they just made people happy just by being around them,” she said. “It matters what kind of a heart you have. That is the most important thing in the world.”
Going forward, Elchoness said he hopes to see kindness awards adopted by more high schools.
“I really don’t want this to be just a Niwot thing,” he said. “I want my son’s legacy to live on.”
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