March 9, 2015, is a day one North Carolina family never wants to experience again.
It's the day they lost their 12-year-old son Aiden.
"It's a daily battle every day; we wake up and our son's gone," said Aiden's mother, Jennifer. "Every bereaved parent in the world wakes up and their child is gone every day. It just happens over and over again every day. You just have to make a choice to try to make something good come out of it. It doesn't change it but it just makes something good come out of something bad."
Aiden loved soccer, and his parents wanted to spread that love in his memory.
"Whether he and I were in the side yard practicing moves," said Aiden's father, Dave, "or we had a little soccer net, him trying to score on me or see how far he could get his kick to make a ball travel. Practicing his running. He wanted to be good."
DREAM COMES TRUE -- WITH A TWIST
Jennifer dreamed of giving scholarships to area children who couldn't afford club soccer. After having emails not returned, phone calls unanswered, meetings where no one showed up, it became frustrating and hurtful. She was ready to give up, but she didn't.
"A friend said 'we're going to Guatemala -- would you like to send soccer balls?' and I said sure, we'll send soccer balls," Jennifer said. She sent back pictures and it was like wow, that's amazing. My cousin shared one of the Aiden's Light posts and one of her friends who works with the Haitian Refugee community contacted me and said would you like to send soccer balls. All of a sudden this idea of let's just send soccer balls around. That's really what became Aiden's Light."
In the past year, they've sent hundreds of soccer balls to 13 countries spanning 3 continents.
"To see our soccer ball with our logo like halfway across the world in some beautiful little kid's hand it's indescribable," Jennifer said. "It's a nice feeling. When you have a lot of pain it's nice to have that moment like, wow this is so great, look what we did."
For those youngsters, the new soccer balls are a tremendous upgrade.
LIGHTING UP THE WORLD THROUGH SOCCER
"The kids had taken old garbage bags, wadded them up into a ball, used twine to keep it tight ... that was the toy for the village," Dave said. "They have nothing. These missionary groups show up with these soccer balls."
Jennifer said her son "had the ability to light up the world."
He continues to light up the world through Aiden's Light memorial fund bringing soccer balls to impoverished areas all across the globe bringing children from the streets to the soccer field.
"The joy on his face and the joy on the kid's faces you can see them catching the ball and running away with the ball -- it's just the best thing ever," Jennifer said.
It's not just toys they are giving these children, but an opportunity to dream and a chance to create safer communities through the game of soccer and sharing the gospel with them.
"One of the groups that goes out, they target particularly kids that are vulnerable to the African militia," Jennifer said. "They (the militia) recruit these kids when they are so young and they train them to kill. This group goes in and uses the game of soccer ... they make them less vulnerable to the militia through the game of soccer."
The knowledge that they're helping young lives and serving a purpose helps Jennifer and Dave cope with their devastating loss.
A LEGACY OF HOPE
"From this horrible, tragic loss that we've experienced, you just feel God is there," Dave said. "I know that eventually, we're all going to be together, but it's tough between now and then so this gives you purpose."
A purpose that ensures Aiden's life and legacy have meaning.
"The idea that his life would fade into obscurity, it's just, it's agonizing to think that he didn't matter, won't matter at some point," Jennifer said. "Just because he's gone, that primal need to mother them, to touch them, to smell them, to do for them, to care for them. it doesn't go away. Even now I yearn to mother Aiden."
Jennifer said the memorial fund is a way she can still mother Aiden -- not the way she imagined but a way that allows his spirit to live on through others.
"Heaven's not like up in the sky," Jennifer said. "It's just a thin veil that separates us. So when I really, really miss him or I'm not feeling him, I just remember that it's just a veil, and he's right there."
Aiden's Light hopes to send as many soccer balls across the world as it can. It wants to connect with more missionaries to help make this dream possible. The fund provides the soccer balls and pumps, all that's asked of the missionaries is for them to pump up the balls and send pictures or videos of the distribution.
If you're interested in helping, you can do so here and here.