Alyssa Josephine O'Neill was a normal, outgoing teenager, a cheerleader at her Erie, Pennsylvania high school, and was preparing for her freshman year at The Behrend College. She had been diagnosed with epilepsy in January 2012, but didn't let that stop her from enjoying her life.
On September 3, Alyssa texted her mom asking if they could go to Starbucks so she could try a Pumpkin Spice Latte for the very first time, but they never got the chance. The next day, the 18-year-old passed away from an epileptic seizure.
"We tried to think of something that we could do that would be a little bit positive," her father Jason O'Neill told us in a Skype chat. He and his wife, Alyssa's mother Sarah, went to their local Starbucks and bought Pumpkin Spice Latte for themselves, as well as the next 40 customers. All they asked of the baristas was that they write #AJO on the cups, and explain to the customers why their drink was free.
What they weren't expecting was that customers who received their drinks would respond the exact same way, by paying it forward. Soon enough, the O'Neill's #AJO campaign spread throughout their community, the country, and the world.
"Next thing you know, we hear about someone donating $600 at a different location," says Sarah. "It just spread like wildfire."
The acts of kindness in Alyssa's memory aren't limited to the seasonal beverage. The O'Neills hope that people will be inspired by this movement to do other good deeds to improve the lives of others.
"Just take the five minutes out of your day to do something nice," says Sarah. "It doesn't have to cost you a dime."
Says her father, "We'd like to pay it forward and try to make everybody a little bit of a better person, because that's what Alyssa did."
If you'd like to learn more about Alyssa and the O'Neills' campaign, visit ajoforever.com.