On the 16th of every month, Shannon and Jon Ackerman spread kindness. They celebrate doing good.
On the 16th of every month, the couple is reminded life doesn’t always go as planned.
“We’ve learned that in the hardest way,” Shannon Ackerman said.
“I know the size of her heart—and I know the plans in her mind,” Jon Ackerman said about his wife. “These past couple of years they haven’t lined up.”
On the 16th of every month the Ackermans have a tradition; they do random acts of kindness for people who seem like they might need it. It’s a tradition they both love, but both wish didn’t exist.
“Our son would be 1 today, so it’s in honor of him,” Shannon said.
Jon and Shannon already had a healthy daughter, Callie. When she was 1, they decided to try for another. Shannon became pregnant as planned, but they learned their unborn baby boy had a rare genetic syndrome -- his skull would not completely form and his kidneys would not function.
“We were praying so hard the doctors were wrong,” Shannon said.
Jon and Shannon’s son Eli was born on March 16, 2016.
“The day came to meet him and he was just beautiful,” Shannon said.
As soon as they said hello to him, they had to say goodbye.
But the couple was determined their son would not be forgotten. Three months after his birth, Shannon decided she’d spread random acts of kindness in his name.
“Even though people won’t get to meet him, they have been impacted by him and our story,” Shannon said. “It inspires people to be good—people want to see goodness around them.”
Most of the gestures are small: an encouraging note left on the windshield of a stranger, breakfast burritos handed out to police officers or the homeless. Sometimes it's candy bars for people in the waiting rooms of hospitals.
“The day has purpose. We do purposeful random acts of kindness,” Shannon said. “It’s an opportunity for me to love on people.”
“We would love it if there were so many people doing random acts of kindness, that it’s not even news anymore,” Jon said.
The couple said their story is inspiring people all over the country, and even a few from outside the United States as well. They’ve heard about people as far away as London doing random acts of kindness in Eli’s name. They call it “The Eli Effect.”
“Every parent is proud when they see their child making an impact,” Shannon said. “That was something I thought would be a dream I’d have to put away. I’m realizing I don’t.”
The couple has hope to grow their family. The both are carriers of a very rare recessive gene that causes Eli’s disorder, but they have a 75 percent chance of having a healthy baby like their firstborn, Callie. A few months after Eli’s birth, they decided to try again. Their next baby, Joey, had the same syndrome as Eli.
“We went in for a routine ultrasound and I could see it,” Shannon said. “I knew what to look for and my heart just dropped. We knew we were going to bury a second baby.”
Joey was born January 17, 2017. The couple is planning on celebrating his life in a different way than they celebrate his brother’s life, but they are still figuring that out.
“Nothing has gone as planned,” Shannon said.
But they said they will keep their plans the 16th and 17th of every month—honoring their sons and spreading love to whoever needs it.
“We’re spreading love around the world. That’s something the world needs,” Jon said.