As parents, many of us think about the way we live our lives and the legacy we hope to leave for our children, but we can’t fathom carrying on our children’s legacy in their stead. That’s exactly what one local mother is doing.
The life Kyle Zammar lived touched many, and his giving nature continues through Kyle’s Gift, a 501c3 foundation. This is non-profit organization comprised of volunteers is dedicated to providing financial resources to programs serving the social, emotional, physical and/or educational needs of special needs children and adults in western Missouri. Kyle’s Gift grants are awarded to non-profit organizations.
Kyle, a 2002 graduate of Lee’s Summit High School, lost his life at the early age of 22, as a senior at Mizzou studying to become a special education teacher. After high school he was hired as a teacher’s aide in LS summer school. To his surprise, he was assigned to an elementary special education classroom. By day five, he was madly in love and found his passion.
“My son Kyle was always someone special. He grew up in Lee’s Summit and was always an excellent athlete and leader. He was someone everyone loved and looked up to for his positive, friendly, generous spirit,” Susie Zammar, his mother, says. “Kyle was in, what we thought, impeccable physical condition. He was still playing basketball on a high level and coaching a premiere team of 15-year-old boys, but May 29, 2006, his little brother, Austin’s, 14th birthday, Kyle didn’t wake up.”
Since he was such an athlete, they were told he had a ‘perfect body’ and they found nothing to explain his death. Believing it was heart related, his heart was sent to Mayo Clinic. They discovered he died from myocarditis, a common cause of cardiac death in athletic young men. It is a disease that causes inflammation of the heart muscle due to a virus in the system. There was no way to know the virus existed.
The Christmas after Kyle died, Austin and Susie tried to decide how to keep his memory alive. A friend shared the story of the White Envelope (whiteenvelopeproject.org), and it inspired them. That year they added a green envelope to the tree. Kyle was a huge Celtics fan, the reason for the shamrocks on his gifts.
“We gave every Special Olympian a basketball that year,” Susie smiles. “The kids loved Mr. Kyle!”
They started a small event called Mantels and Martinis in New Longview in 2012, with funds going to Special Olympics in Kyle’s honor. Since then, they have raised nearly $300,000 benefiting Special Olympics in Lee’s Summit and Jackson County, Camp Encourage, which is a sleepaway camp for autistic children; Developing Potential, Down Syndrome Innovations and SOAR Special Needs.
Mantels and Martinis has become an annual event the first Thursday of December. Tickets go on sale October 2nd, Kyle’s birthday, and sell out in minutes, as they did this year. There are eight homes in Winterset Valley on the 2022 tour, each decked out in gorgeous holiday finery on mantels and indoor/outdoor décor created by talented area designers. Special Olympians serve as home hosts and greeting guests.
“It seems the best way to celebrate Kyle. We can rejoice in all the love and goodness his life continues to bring into the world; it’s another gift,” Susie muses. “Honestly, for me as his mom, it helps keep him alive. There is old wisdom that no one really dies until your name is no longer spoken. Through Kyle’s Gift, the two scholarships in his name, his permanent memorial on the edge of Legacy Circle at Mizzou, a best friend’s little boy named Kyle and all the people who still share their love for him, his name and spirit remain very much alive.”
Kelly Lee, Executive Director of Camp Encourage, notes, “Since 2017, Kyle’s Gift has been graciously supporting Camp Encourage and we couldn’t be more grateful. Because of their generosity, numerous local youths on the autism spectrum have been gifted the opportunity to attend an overnight camp—individuals that wouldn’t otherwise have been able to experience the ‘magic.’ Because of Kyle’s Gift, each camper has felt welcomed, gained independence and confidence, spent time exploring nature, made lifelong connections, met others that ‘get it,’ gained strategies to strengthen emotional and physical wellness, learned new skills of recreation, and gained skills for life."
Visit Kyle’s Gift on Facebook.