Purdue Sigma Chi lost Brother Xavier Sommerville in a fatal accident on September 3, 2012. When he died, the fraternity began to ask questions about life and loss they had never been confronted with. They were particularly drawn to the idea of making the most out of the brief and unpredictable length of time we’ve been given. But how do you make the most out of every year? Every week? Every day?
They thought about how Xavier spent his time. They thought about his spirit and kindness. They thought about the way he made people feel better about themselves by simply being around them. Through Xavier, they found their answer.
The Xavier Project was born. In March of last year, five brothers, Ben Waters, Bryan Hall, Jake Clark, Cameron Sanders, and Will Shifrin, made a video laying out their plan to travel from coast to coast, stopping along the way to perform random acts of kindness for strangers.
They made a website detailing the cities they would visit and the people they would help, and a GoFundMe page to make it all happen. In June, the five of them set off on the summer-long journey, documenting every step they took.
Follow the road trip of good will, city by city, in the videos below, and learn about the incredible people they helped via excerpts from their blog.
Stop 1: Chicago
For their first stop, the brothers visited a small, Chicago church called Christ the King Lutheran, where the pastor introduced them to some extremely gifted children in need. They met a boy named Kamal, who had just been accepted by a prestigious private high school. Unfortunately, with his father out of work, Kamal’s family couldn’t afford to send him. So, the church launched a donation campaign to raise money for his education. The brothers donated money to Kamal’s education fund, bought him school supplies, and threw a pizza party at the church for the kids, who ranged from Kindergarten to 8th grade. About a month later, they got an email from the pastor informing them that, with the brother’s help, Kamal had raised enough money to afford his first semester at private school.
Stop 2: Milwaukee
The brothers visited a coffee shop called Dryhootch, which was established by veterans for veterans. The owner, Dale, introduced them to Heather Antoniewicz, a veteran and mother struggling to pay the bills for her visually-impaired son, Elijah. On top of that, Antoniewicz house had recently burned down. The brothers donated money to help pay for Elijah’s vision therapy and took him out for a day at the zoo. Without the help of therapy, Elijah may have lost his eyesight completely within 18 months.
Stop 3: Norfolk
In Norfolk, Virginia, the brothers connected with the Cares program via Catholic Charities, and spent the day helping the elderly with chores they were unable to do.
We did everything from fixing toilets, trimming bushes, and mowing lawns, to putting together screen doors and door handls, or just sitting and talking to the people we were helping. It was an interesting change of pace from the things we had been doing. But it was nice to see how some of the more simple things that we take for granted so often, can mean so much to someone else. Simply sitting and listening to stories probably meant more to these individuals than the small labor tasks we were asked to do, and we were happy to be there for them.
Stop 4: Dallas
The brothers met a shy, humble man named Eric and his dog Coco through the Hands of Hope organization in Dallas, a charity for homeless people. Eric, a former employee for IBM, Microsoft, and the FBI, had been living out of a pickup truck for some time, which was now broken down behind a Dairy Queen. The brothers paid to get the truck towed and repaired, and while it was in the shop, they took him to Whataburger, sat him down for a meal, and listened to his story.
We all thought Eric would be happy just to get his car fixed, never thought in a million years that he would consider the afternoon we spent with him to be just as valuable. Eric helped us realize all of us have so much to give to others, beyond what we could imagine, and beyond just material things. Often times, the company and comfort we can supply to others can be the most valuable thing we have to offer.
Eric now drives to a full-time job in his fully-repaired pickup. After work, he drives home — to a house.
Stop 5: Phoenix
They then met Xavier’s older brother, Nick Sommerville, at his home in Phoenix, Arizona. Nick joined them on their next deed, which was lending a hand to a mother and son who had recently fled from a domestic violence home. Because of the abuse, the young son, Aidan, was terrified of older men. When the brothers first showed up, Aidan curled up in the fetal position on the floor, and fled to his room when they came near. They managed to get Aidan to join them on a trip to an amusement park and a Barnes & Noble, where they bought him dozens of books on weather (Aidan wants to be a weatherman when he grows up). Eventually, Aidan warmed up to them, and his mother was awe struck — she couldn’t remember seeing him so happy. For the first time in his life, older men had showed Aidan love, not abuse.
Stop 6: San Francisco
The brothers headed to San Fransisco, California, to help two young girls, ages 13 and 15. Both were adopted from a home riddled with alcohol problems and mental health issues. Their new home was safe, but they struggled financially. To stock up for the upcoming school year, the brothers took them out on the shopping excursion of a lifetime.
At one point early in the day, one of the girls picked up a coat they wanted in the mall, and put it down saying, “nevermind, it’s $30.” One of the best parts of the day was when we told her she had to have it, and her sister needed one too, so we helped her sister pick one out.
Stop 7: Denver
In Denver, the brothers helped four families who had recently beat homelessness, but were still struggling to get by. They loaded up shopping cart after shopping cart of goodies for the kids, then treated them to a pizza party and a Supersoaker fight at the area Family Promise center.
I’ve really seen this summer that there is no joy similar to a child’s joy. None of the kids we have met have ever been sad or think that they have a rough life. These kids are going through things that hopefully no one has to experience, and they are doing it with the biggest smile on their face. So next time you have a bad day, or think life has been treating you unfair…why don’t you pick up a squirt gun or a water balloon? We all know it’s impossible to be sad during a water fight.
And with that, the brothers journey had come to a close.
When someone dies as young as Xavier did, it feels unfair. Cruel. Ugly. It leaves deep wounds that seem untreatable. But as the brothers learned over the course of the summer — from a disabled child who was given the chance to see, a downtrodden man who was given the chance to thrive, an abused child who was given the chance to trust — there is always a way to recover from even the most helpless of situations. All it takes, as Xavier taught them, is a little help.