On the fifth anniversary of his tragic death on Nantucket, Corey Griffin’s legacy continues to enrich the lives of countless children.
What good can come from someone so beloved dying so young? Once the casket is closed, the remembrances spoken and the tears shed, what becomes of a lost young life? Many live on in the hearts of those who miss them, but few continue to positively impact countless lives years after they are gone. Yet there are those special ones among us that, through their ethos of positivity, compassion, loyalty, humor and gratitude, inspire those left behind to live by their example. Corey Griffin was one of the special ones.
Though his twenty-seven years were much too short, the legacy he left behind is already long and enduring. From his untimely death on Nantucket on August 16, 2014, a foundation was born in his memory that has improved the lives of thousands of underprivileged and underserved children around Boston.
I was with Corey Griffin for a few hours on the night he died. He was staying at my family’s home in Shimmo. With each summer since we had graduated from college, Corey found himself spending more and more time on Nantucket and wanted to figure out ways to give back to the island that had brought him so much joy. As one of the co-founders of the Ice Bucket Challenge, a viral sensation that raised awareness around ALS, Corey had fundraising abilities that were already the stuff of legend. So when he reached out to help with the Summer Groove, an event now named after my late father, Tim Russert, to benefit the Nantucket Boys and Girls Club—I seized the opportunity.
Helping one charity that day, however, wasn’t enough for Corey. The same night as the Summer Groove, he also arranged a late-night fundraiser at the Chicken Box to benefit his former Boston College classmate Pete Frates’ organization that helped raise money for ALS research. Shortly after Frates’ ALS diagnosis, Corey sprang into action and singlehandedly raised over $100,000 dollars to combat the terrible disease. “For him, if you weren’t giving, you were taking,” said Rocky Fox, who helped Corey organize the ALS fundraiser at the Chicken Box. “Corey was such a giver.” Over what would be his last supper, Corey told me how thrilled he was about the response for the ALS event and his excitement for the Summer Groove. As he left my house for a night out with friends, Corey said he was sure he could rally more people to attend both fundraisers.
In the early morning hours of Saturday, August 16, 2014, Corey died in a freak accident diving off of the All-Serve building into Nantucket Harbor. His adventurous spirit led him to that roof after he had been told about the decades-old Nantucket summer tradition. For weeks, many of us close to him agonized over why such a young, vibrant and caring man was taken so suddenly? Soon, though, we realized it was pointless—why focus on the what-ifs when we could take the lessons of the man and make sure that his legacy would never be forgotten? Grief turned into action, and by the winter of 2015, less than six months after his passing, the Corey C. Griffin Foundation was up and running.
Giving kids a chance, teaching kids to give— that is the motto of the foundation and it exemplifies Corey. The brainchild of Corey’s parents, Rob and Cathy, and siblings, Michael and Casey, and made possible by their tireless efforts and the collective work of hundreds of Corey’s friends and extended family, the foundation has generated over $8 million for innovative nonprofits that focus on underprivileged youth.
“Corey had a remarkable sense of compassion from a young age, and his foundation has grown to embody that trait through the many wonderful children that we are privileged to support,” said Rob Griffin. “We truly see his joyful spirit and love of life in the eyes of the students, campers and patients whom we lovingly know as ‘Corey’s Kids.’”
At the Saint John Paul II Catholic Academy in Dorchester, a school that serves some of Boston’s neediest residents, the foundation has an endowed scholarship fund. To date, over forty students grades pre-kindergarten to eighth grade have gone to the highly regarded school in Corey’s name. Nearly 100 percent of students beat the national averages on standardized tests.
A former college hockey player, Corey put a premium on staying in shape and being active. In that spirit, the foundation has underwritten the costs for hundreds of low-income campers to attend summer programs at the Ron Burton Training Village. Here, Corey’s Kids spend a summer playing sports and learning about the village’s core values: love, peace, patience and humility.
Corey believed in every child’s right to have the best medical care possible, and during his life he participated in many charity events for Boston’s Children’s Hospital. A major hurdle that families have to navigate to receive treatment at the hospital is the high cost of housing during an extended stay. In a city where the average hotel room can cost $200 a night, costs add up quickly. The foundation has earmarked $4 million to go toward “Corey’s House,” a multi-room extended-stay housing facility, now in the pre-construction phase, that will provide an affordable option for families to stay close to their children while they undergo treatment.
My mother, Maureen Orth, was also inspired by Corey’s caring spirit and constructed a prayer garden in the backyard of our Nantucket home. “Corey’s Garden” is a place to pray, reflect and feel. On late summer evenings, I find myself there, thinking about my lost friend. I miss Corey deeply, yet my grief is soon replaced with a deep sense of pride and admiration for all the good he has done from beyond. I sincerely believe if I asked him today, “Corey, you’ll help thousands of kids but sadly you won’t be here to see it, would you take that deal?” he’d respond, “Absolutely, bud. Not even a question.” Corey was that selfless, and those that loved him take comfort in knowing that from his death so many children have been given a better chance at life.