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This article was published in September 2013. The information may be out of date. Please check our epilepsy information or our site A-Z.

#AJO: the death of a cheerleader sparks viral kindness

27 Sep 2013

Alyssa O’Neill died as a result of a seizure on 4 September. What began as a simple gesture by her parents to pay tribute to their daughter has become a global movement of kindness – the ‘pay-it-forward’ movement

Alyssa was a cheerleader in Pennsylvania, US. She had been diagnosed with epilepsy only a year ago, before she died as a result of a seizure at the age of 18 on 4 September.

The last contact Alyssa had with her parents was a text she sent on the day she died. That text asked her parents to take her to Starbucks the next day for a pumpkin spiced latte. This simple communication was the seed that grew into a worldwide movement of spontaneous acts of kindness.

In a tribute to their daughter, Jason and Sarah O’Neill visited their local Starbucks and bought pumpkin spiced lattes for 40 people they’d never met. They asked for #AJO (Alyssa’s initials) to be written on each cup in purple marker. When the coffee shop manager heard the reason why, Starbucks employees donated a further 50 drinks.

coffee cups with the #AJO hashtagThanks to social media, the #AJO hashtag has spread all over the world. (A ‘hashtag’ is a searchable label used in social media to link conversations.) Random strangers have now been buying each other coffee in Afghanistan, Iceland, Italy, China and Sri Lanka. Each time, photographs have been posted to social media sites with coffee cups bearing #AJO.

These acts of kindness have become known as the ‘pay-it-forward’ movement. This phrase means to do a good deed for a stranger on the understanding that they will go on to do the same for someone else. In this way, goodwill has a positive impact on a growing number of people – and represents a poignant way of remembering cheerleader Alyssa.

Good deeds have not been limited to buying coffees. One stranger bought movie tickets, while another generously cleared someone’s festive toy bill at a Toys ‘R’ Us store in the states.

Meanwhile, the AJO Forever Fund has also been created in tribute to Alyssa. It is designed to offer scholarships to other cheerleaders hoping to fulfil Alyssa’s own ambition: to become a nurse.

In an interview with www.today.com Alyssa’s dad, Jason, said: “We never thought it would spread like this. We’re still in disbelief. Every time we think, ‘There’s no way they can top this,’ something more amazing happens.”

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