One would be hard pressed to find a more compassionate, determined, and generous young woman than Exton, Pennsylvania, native and current Downingtown East High School (PA) sophomore, ERIN VALKO. At first glance, Erin appears analogous to many high school student-athletes—she plays basketball, softball, enjoys arts and crafts, juggling, and considers herself an outdoor enthusiast who fancies fishing, camping, and hiking. However, beyond that, I learned there were additional layers to this Downingtown Cougar than previously noted.
While enrolled in Lionville Middle School (PA), Erin (as per the middle school required curriculum), was tasked with crafting, and carrying out a capstone project with the goal of ensuring the betterment of the local community. Students are required to complete their capstone at the conclusion of each school year for 7th and 8th grade. A majority of Erin’s peers participated in fundraisers, volunteered their time for causes close to their hearts, and/or contributed their artistic abilities to the various mural paintings at the school. Erin chose to raise money for the Downingtown Dominators an “all abilities cheerleading squad” in which her twin sister, Lauren, is a participant and competitor.
While Erin was working vigorously on this fundraising 7th grade project, a global virus would soon shake the core of society packed with widespread disruption and chaos. The virus, which would become known as COVID-19, foiled a majority of the middle school students’ plans to complete their well well-intentioned capstone projects. However, not deterred by the pandemic, Erin moved full steam ahead adjusting to the curveballs plaguing society while continuing to follow through on her fundraising mission. What initially was a required academic assignment, soon proved to become a lifelong passion for this middle schooler.
Erin’s passion came in the form of crafting and distributing kindness pens. By way of an online company and with an assist from her mother and co-designer, Maureen, Erin began selling yellow barreled pens engraved with the phrase BE KIND. Over time the pen colors ranged from blue and white conveying the message ALWAYS BE KIND, to her most recent affirmation, a gradient of the color blue bearing the words KINDNESS IS CONTAGIOUS. Erin’s belief in spreading kindness coupled with her creativity has caught the eye of many over the years, demonstrated by the high demand of order requests for kindness pens.
In what has become an all too common, yet celebratory sequence of events, Erin, like so many other Aidan’s Heart Foundation volunteers and contributors, became aware of AHF while she was a student at Marsh Creek Sixth Grade Center. When Erin’s class hosted Christy Marshall-Silva, Aidan’s mother, and Board President of AHF, who introduced the lifesaving procedures of CPR and AED to the student attendees, Erin found an unexpected opportunity in her already purpose filled life. An athlete herself, Erin felt the immediate need to educate her fellow peers and teammates about the risks of cardiac arrest and the necessary steps to hopefully save a life.
When I questioned Erin as to why she elected to invest so heavily in AHF and its mission, her answer demonstrated once again this young woman’s extensive level of maturity and selfless nature:
Aidan’s Heart Foundation was an easy choice for me. It is amazing to see the impact a foundation like AHF has on many people’s lives especially at the local level. Many people also are unfamiliar with the risks and effects of cardiac arrest, and I believe it is very important to educate people. Because I am an athlete this cause is important to me. Many athletes are unaware of the risks of cardiac arrest and/or how to perform CPR. In an emergency where such skills and knowledge are needed, lives can be saved, and a tragedy may be averted.
As Erin’s kindness pens have gained in popularity, so too has the amount of money she has been able to raise. This young entrepreneur went from raising $500 to $1500 in a mere few years, with donations helping to support the charities A Path to Hope, High 5 Soccer, Aidan’s Heart Foundation (AHF), and of course, her original passion project, the Downingtown Dominators. Erin gifted Aidan’s Heart Foundation with a second donation of $435 this past winter.
Erin is actively thinking about her future and has her sights set on pursuing a career in marketing and/or product design upon receiving her eventual college degree. However, her current plans include continuing her fundraising endeavors while making an impact in her community through her kindness pens now and in the future. We are grateful to Erin for her incredible efforts to support heart-safe communities through her entrepreneurial efforts and the goodness of her heart!
Barrett Snyder holds a Master of Science (MS) in Sports Management, and a Master of Business Administration (MBA). In his free time, he enjoys freelance writing, exploring the principles of kinesiology, reading about political theory, and mentoring those within his academic programs. He is a long-standing dear friend of Aidan’s family.