We have had a lot of visitors to our site and we wanted to share this video done by Verizon 1 which sums up pretty much everything we are about.  Samantha and I are both humbled and honored by the love and kindness being spread in Rees’ memory. Please Keep Cultivating Kindness, always!!!

 






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It is impossible to quantify kindness…  This is a truth I have come to realize in the 2 plus years my family and I have been on this journey we call “ReesSpecht Life”.  Kindness cannot possibly be measured because it is something, like love, that exists in our hearts and not in our heads.  There is no computation for kindness… you can’t ascertain a mean, median or mode for it.  Kindness just “is”… it’s inherent in the heart of every person – though, for many different reasons, it lay dormant in too many of us.

When my wife and I set out to form ReesSpecht Life, we did so with a mission to honor our little boy’s brief life and pay back the kindness of those people who rushed to our aid in our time of need.  I never intended for this movement to become what it has.  We just wanted to do something nice.  The teachers in us wanted to pass on a lesson that others could learn from.  We just wanted to let those who made a difference in our time of need know that what they did was appreciated.  Those very people would not let us pay them back, so we decided to pay it forward.

In the two years since we passed out our first “ReesSpecht Life” pay it forward card, there have been countless acts of kindness performed in Rees’ name.  To think that over 100,000 of the cards circulate the globe boggles my mind.  I get messages all the time now about the acts of kindness people perform, and whether big or small, they all generate the same feeling of true happiness in my soul.  Every act of kindness we hear about brings a smile to my face as I know, in some small way, my little boy’s spirit helped inspire it.

When I think about it, all we ever wanted to do with this movement was to inspire others to act on the inherent, and sometimes latent, kindness in all of our hearts.  Based on the picture you see above, that inspiration has hit a new level.  A couple of nights ago I received a short email with a cryptic message line from a young lady who shared with me that she had something “big” to share with us but wished to remain anonymous in doing so.  The name wasn’t familiar and to be honest I wasn’t sure whether or not it was spam.  I almost didn’t respond but a little voice in my head told me to send an inquiry back to her.  It took about a day to get a response, and when I opened the email I realized it was exactly as she said… it was BIG.

My mouth sat agape as stared at a picture attached to her reply that showed a restaurant receipt with a $3,000.00 tip on it… I literally did a double, even triple take.  I then read the note that accompanied it:

Thank you for your kindness and humility.  My teacher in middle school had such a difficult experience a few years ago which has sparked me to do this.  My only requirements are:

1) Go to ReesSpechtLife.com and learn!

2) Don’t let “Pay it forward” end with you.

3) Since it’s about the idea and not about you, or me, if you decide to share this, don’t use either of our names!

Thank you for being around for all of my shows on and off Broadway.  I hope that someday someone gives as much love and happiness into the world as you do.

In staring at that receipt I never noticed the name and it wasn’t until I read the note did I realize that it was a former student of mine.  I immediately recalled who he was and realized that I had him at least ten years ago.  This young man used to come up to my room to talk with me and I remember many of our conversations that we had over the course of that year.  Sadly, as with most of my students, I never really had a chance to talk to him again after he left my classroom and moved on to the 9th grade.

To think that someone I had a decade ago would honor my little boy or even remember his 8th grade science teacher in such a way blows me away.  In an age where politicians wish to identify “High Effective” teachers simply by test scores and data points, this moment could not be better timed.  I have to admit, as a teacher, I am absolutely worn down by what is going on in education “reform” today.  It breaks my heart to see that people actually believe that a teacher’s impact and effectiveness can measured by data points provided by a single, standardized test.  I am a firm believer that what makes a good teacher is the inherently intangible aspects that no amount of data could ever quantify.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to be political here.  I am not espousing some union “agenda”; I’m simply sharing how I, as a dedicated educator, feel.  As much as I would like to rail against the “Powers that be” I just don’t have the will to do so here.  All I know is that the single, greatest, evaluation I could ever receive came into my inbox last night and it wasn’t an amalgamated statistic generated by some value added model determined to reduce my impact on my students to a single number.  No, what I received last night was affirmation that I made a difference in that young man’s life, and in return he honored my little boy with a gesture that is almost unfathomable. That is all any of us really ever wants, isn’t it? – To know that we made a difference in this world.

New York state can take the rating they gave me and toss it in the garbage, where it belongs.  I don’t need a bureaucrat who has never set foot in the front of a classroom full of children to tell me what it is, in their jaded view, to make a difference to my students… Frankly, based on current events I am witness to in the state of New York, it is abundantly clear that they have no idea at all…

I guess it all really comes back to kindness.  Some things just cannot be measured, yet that does not mean we can’t identify it when we see it.  We all know who the “good” teachers in our lives were because they were the ones who made a difference to us.  Those people who took the time to go that extra step to ensure we understood their message.  Those teachers were the pillars of respect… accepting that we are all different, yet taking our commonality, our humanity, our compassion and kindness and using it to make us feel special and unique.  When I think about it, at the very core of everything, life itself is the one thing we all universally share.  I am happy knowing my little boy and I made a difference in the lives of those who we have touched.  I am proud to say that, as a teacher, as a human being, I ReesSpecht Life, and I will continue to do so.  Go out and make a difference.  Be the change YOU wish to see in this world.  We can all make a difference in this world, one Rees’ piece at a time…






Recollection of my dreams often evades me, but rarely do I ever forget a nightmare.  Last night was one of those moments in which I awoke from a nightmare so vivid, so intense, that even in those first few waking moments I was not certain of just what was “reality”.  In that dream my youngest child drowned – and to say it was jarring is an understatement.  As lucidity returned I found myself still in a panic and went directly to her crib to allay my fears.  Upon entering her room I was immediately comforted by my little girl’s peaceful slumber interrupted only by a few, cute, little moans.  My instinct was to pick her up and cradle her in my grateful arms, but I resisted as to not wake her.  A comforting smile crept across my face as I stealthily slinked out of her room, comforted by the reassurance that all was well.  With last look back, just to make sure, I closed her door and quietly returned to my bedroom.  Maintaining my stealth, I carefully sneaked back into bed with one eye spying to see if I had disturbed my wife with her gently breathing confirming I had not.  Content with the knowledge that all was well, and that the nightmare I awoke from was nothing more than a dream,  I laid my head back down on my pillow.  A sigh of relief was the last sound I made as I gently returned to the slumber that was so rudely interrupted by the terrible vision just moments before…

Seeing her sleeping peacefully was all the re-assurance I needed.

Seeing her sleeping peacefully was all the re-assurance I needed.

Two years and five months ago, in what feels like another lifetime, something similar played out in the same place, around the same time of the night.  In that mirror-like moment I found myself experiencing a similar situation and fear – only to have it confirmed by an empty crib…  Instead of waking up from a nightmare, I found myself waking into a nightmare.  I was dreaming that my son, Richard Edwin-Ehmer Specht (Rees), was alive and well and playing a game of hide and seek with me.  We were having fun playing peek-a-boo and my heart was at ease.  All was right in the world, yet something felt off.  I subconsciously knew that I was dreaming but I did not want it to end.  Sadly, the dream ended with me opening my eyes into a world where there would be no more peek-a-boos or hide and seek.  I awakened from a happy mirage into the horror of the realization that my little boy was gone.  I rushed to my bedroom window and  peered out to look for the pond, its absence confirming that this nightmare was my reality.

Most of us wake from our bad dreams and eventually shake them off.  Losing a child completely de-polarizes this dynamic, flipping our perception of what is a dream and what is a nightmare.  Every parent who has lost a child spends their waking hours in a sepulchral horror from which our dreams are our only reprieve.  Before October 27th, 2012 I used to be able to shake off the scary thoughts and fears as something that happened to “other people”.  Drownings only happened to families that did not pay attention to their children.  Drownings happened because of bad parenting.  Drownings happened because of perpetual carelessness.  I found out the hard way that drownings can happen to any family at any time.  I could no longer dismiss the carelessness of “other people”… I was “other people” yet I was not those other things.

After we laid Rees to rest and my wife and I formed the ReesSpecht life foundation we had to decide what the foundation would stand for.  We knew we wanted to repay the kindness of others and make the world a better place in Rees’ name, but it seemed so intangible.  At first, we were not quite sure what exactly we wanted the foundation to be about, but we did know for certain what we did not want it to be about: Drowning.  As I look back, I realize that the wound was much too fresh for us to consider the idea of working to prevent drownings.  Sam and I reasoned that there were “other people” who already were working on drowning prevention so we figured we would do something else.  The very dismissive thinking that we thought shielded us from anything bad actually happening to our family reared its head again and we felt justified in our approach.  ReesSpecht Life would not be about drowning.

We managed to successfully distance ourselves from drowning prevention for almost a year until fate stepped in and made sure we took notice.  It turns out there were “other people” who were working on preventing drowning, but they needed help.  They needed a way to get word out and they needed boots on the ground to start educating people about the importance of water safety.  It was in October of 2013 that I was introduced to Bobby Hazen, President of the Long Island Drowning Prevention Task Force, through a mutual friend of ours.  Bobby is someone who, from the first moment you meet him, you realize is as genuine as they come.  He is charming and charismatic and has a disarming smile and easy demeanor that puts you at ease right away.  It took only a few words from him for me to see his passion and commitment to drowning prevention.  I admired that he was so dedicated to a cause that he really had no personal connection to.  He simply wanted to save lives and he was the real deal.  Knowing this, what did I do when I first sat down to talk to him?  I told him that we really didn’t want to do anything with drowning prevention…

My first meeting with Bobby Hazen from the LIDPTF

My first meeting with Bobby Hazen from the LIDPTF

I explained to Bobby that our foundation had a different calling and that drowning prevention was just not something we wanted to be a part of.  Like any great pitchman, Bobby accepted my stance, but offered a nugget that sparked my interest.  He simply wanted us to “partner” with them to help get word out.  No action needed, just support.  I accepted his proposal and a partnership was born.  Before I knew it, the spark ignited something in me that began to burn a little more each time I met with him.  His undeniable commitment to saving children he would never meet continued to stoke the nascent flame inside of me.  That fire continued to smolder until that eureka moment, while sitting in his office, where I literally saw a sign that our foundation needed to do more… The sign was on his wall and it said “Where children learn to love and respect the water“.  Respect the Water.  Respect Life.  ReesSpecht Life.  REESSPECHT THE WATER! – It was a perfect fit.

It was only weeks before that meeting with Bobby that my sister Kim called me excited that she had an idea about something our foundation could do along with our promotion of kindness.  She said she had a vision of water safety products with a characterture of Rees on them with the logo: ReesSpecht the Water.  She was so excited and kept telling me all her ideas and though I loved them, I honestly didn’t think it would be something we would act on right away.  I tucked the idea away, saving it as one of many potential avenues the foundation could travel in the future.  It didn’t take long for the future to come calling.  When I told Bobby the idea my sister had, his eyes lit up and you could see the gears turning in his head.  We both realized we were meant to meet each other and I immediately understood that drowning prevention was going to be something that I was now able to commit myself to.  It was as if the final piece of the puzzle that I was looking for was found… right in front of me the whole time, but ignored until that moment.  I was all in.

He always loved the water...

He always loved the water…

According the center for disease control, drowning is by far the number one cause of unintentional, preventable death of children aged 1-4.  The problem with drowning is the fact it is preventable, but most people don’t actually know how to truly prevent it.  My family was wrapped in the blanket of false security in our knowledge of how to protect our children.  There are so many aspects of drowning prevention that I know now that could have possibly prevented Rees’ death.  I cannot go back in time and save my son.  If I cannot save him, then I am going to make sure that no other family suffers needlessly due to this awful, avoidable tragedy.

With that as our motivation, we have officially partnered with the LIDPTF to start the ReesSpecht the Water campaign to teach children and their caregivers the importance of water safety.  The money we raise through this effort will go to fund school shows from the Drowning Prevention Task Force.  These shows are a great way to get people to start thinking about the importance of water safety and drowning prevention.  Every child is sent home with an informational goody bag loaded with materials that parents can share with their children.  It is a great way to build a foundation on which the life saving skills of water safety can be built.  In order to build that foundation, we need support.  We cannot do this alone.  Even with the combined focus of the LIDPTF and ReesSpecht Life, we lack the funds to support these shows on their own.  Starting this April 30th we are taking our first step to raise the necessary funds to support these efforts.  I know now It’s not enough to hide behind the anonymity of the idea that drowning only happens to “other” people.  I am those “other” people.  Everyone else affected by drowning were “other” people until it actually happened to them to.  Turning a blind eye to drowning only increases the likelihood that it will happen. I don’t want others to wake into a world of shattered dreams.   There are some nightmares that we don’t wake up from – I know, I live it everyday.  I really hope, that with your help, we can save some lives – one Rees’ piece at a time.

***  We are holding our first fundraiser for our ReesSpecht the Water Campaign on Thursday, April 30th at 6pm at the Atlantis Aquarium in Riverhead NY.  Tickets are being sold for $150 but I am going to offer a discount to any readers of this blog of an additional 20% off ($30 off per ticket) or full table price (10 seats) for $960 (regularly $1200).  For discount enter the coupon code: dreams at the checkout for your tickets at the link below.  If you pay by check, please write “dreams” in the memo.

Come Join us for a fun night that will serve to plant the seeds that will hopefully save children’s lives all over Long Island and beyond.  We can only do this with your help.  We are a registered 501c3 charity and your donation is tax deductible.  Click here for ticket ordering and event information

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