A Bright Light Is Not Easily Extinguished
A valiant young mother honors her husband’s long legacy of making a difference
By Crissy Neville » Photos by Mollie Tobias
Few people in life have the ability to light up a room with their presence, to illuminate their surroundings — drawing eyes, turning heads, spreading joy and laughter. Matthew "Kyle" Evans was such a person, and a promising foundation just launched in his memory bears witness to his larger-than-life personality in both name and mission.
Established by Evans' wife Lacey, family members and friends, The Kyle Evans Let it Shine Foundation is a pending 501(c)(3) charity established in 2020. It honors the life and light of Sergeant First Class Matthew Kyle Evans who passed away peacefully and unexpectedly in his sleep May 25, 2019, at the age of 33. A soldier in the U.S. Army for nearly half his life, Evans was a highly decorated Green Beret, as well as beloved husband, father, son, brother, neighbor and friend.
Lacey Evans explains the twofold meaning behind the Foundation's name. "Anyone who knew Kyle knew how bright his light shined. He was such a positive person, always happy and full of energy and truly the embodiment of 'this little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine.' The foundation’s purpose is to help kids let their lights shine once again after facing a devastating personal loss. We do not know why in the weeks following Kyle's death, our 4-year-old daughter Maryn sang that sweet little song over and over again, as on repeat. That made me so aware of how grief and tragedy can affect a child."
The Kyle Evans Let it Shine Foundation serves Gold Star Kids, the children of Gold Star Families. According to the Hope for the Warriors organization, a Gold Star Family is the immediate family member(s) of a fallen service member who died while serving in the U.S Armed Forces. The Gold Star represents sacrifice, service and mourning of loss.
Lacey knows too well the feelings of pride and personal mourning, particularly as she now strives to raise her daughter and 6-month-old son, Macklin Evans, born 13 weeks after her husband's death, alone. Macklin, she shared, means "son of," and the baby's middle name is Kyle. "We call him Mack," she says proudly.
"Kyle and I would have celebrated six years of marriage this year. He was the love of my life. We met back in sixth grade when he moved with his dad to Vernon, Texas, where I am from. He moved in with his mom for high school up in Wisconsin, where his friends all called him ‘Tex.’ Then the Army took him away after that, but he always came back to Texas in the summers and our love would rekindle. He was such a part of my life from such a young age that in losing him I feel I have lost a part of myself. I miss both my best friend and the possibility of the future."
In starting the Foundation, Lacey seeks to regain footing in her life, taking on something bigger than herself and honoring Kyle's long legacy. "I felt called to begin this to help change people's lives and to make something better of my own life and that of my kids. Life is so unknown and something like this, a complete tragedy, will let you know that. Kyle did so much in his life to make a difference, and I want to carry that on. I want to try to live as big as Kyle."
Lacey shared the goals and vision of the Foundation. "Gold Star Kids face the unthinkable reality of losing a parent who was actively serving in the United States military. Our commitment is to provide Gold Star Kids with a safe, fun, and memorable experience built around their individual wishes and needs, while also offering long-term support as the grieving process continues. Our goal is to encourage kids to let their light shine even in darkness. We want them to know that childlike joy can coexist during pain and unimaginable loss. That it's OK to smile, have fun and laugh, and to be a silly kid, still."
Lacey further explains, "A child or parent may apply for an experience on the website starting in the fall and winter of 2020. We will use our funds, resources, connections and manpower to make their wishes come true, as much as possible, whether it is for a day, a weekend or however long the experience needs to be. It might be a trip to the beach or meeting a child’s hero, The Foundation is very much a startup and while we have a great board, making contacts is going to be an important part of the process. The possibilities are endless."