'Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.' – Mother Teresa
Even in darkness, there is light, and no light could ever shine as bright as that of Olivia Grace Knighton.
The daughter of New England Revolution favorite Brad and his wife Britney, and sister of Owen and Brooks, the beautiful, beloved, and brilliant 11-year-old touched the hearts of everyone she met with her warmth, compassion and kindness, as well as those she was yet to meet before her tragic passing earlier this year.
Today, on Friday, November 3, we celebrate the birthday and the life of a truly inspirational shining star. In a wonderfully fitting tribute, the Olivia Knighton Foundation has been unveiled in Olivia’s memory, to honor the spirit of a special young girl, who brought so much joy to the world, truly treasured life and radiated so much hope, happiness and love.
Inspired by Olivia’s passion for learning and her gift for helping others, the Foundation hopes to continue her legacy of spreading kindness and encouraging people to follow their dreams, by raising money for scholarships to enable students from her hometown of Attleboro to pursue and achieve their own aspirations. It is a cause close to the hearts of Olivia, her family and her community, and the perfect way to remember the brightest of angels, who lived to create a better world.
“After the passing of Olivia, there have been some very difficult times,” her father Brad said. “For us, we are trying to process how we can celebrate her life that she’s not going to be part of, and being able to set up this Foundation – the Olivia Knighton Foundation – in her name was something that was near and dear to our hearts; something that we felt like others could take bits and pieces from her life, and grasp their own.
“We are launching the Foundation on Olivia’s birthday, and what better way to honor her life and her legacy than to be able to announce a Foundation in her name on her birthday? We’re going to celebrate it – we’re not going to mourn it, we’re going to celebrate it – because that’s what she would have wanted. We’re going to have a party, we’re going to have cake, we’re going to have family and friends in town, to celebrate her life because that’s what she would have wanted.
“Setting up this Foundation was for us to be able to continue her life, her legacy, her love; her brightness that shines through every single day, and be able to give back. We thought that setting up scholarships, grants, small acts of kindness – all these little things that Olivia loved and enjoyed – to be able to give back and help kids that are aspiring to be young adults, and have dreams and aspirations of doing things that Olivia would have loved to do, we felt in our hearts that this is how we should celebrate her life, celebrate her legacy, and carry on her name, her gift and the spirit she had in the short time she was here with us.
“We were so blessed to be her parents. We strongly believe that she picked us – that she was put on this earth for one reason, and that was to be our child. We didn’t know how long she was going to be around, but maybe she knew. We got 11 great years with her, but she had a higher calling. She did everything at 1,000 miles an hour every single day, because we believe she knew she was only going to be with us for a short time. She had so many thoughts and dreams and aspirations cycling through her head, and she just wanted to do so much. For us, being able to experience that day in, day out was something we will live with and enjoy for the rest of our lives because she was physically here.
“For us, setting up this Foundation, we felt like this is a fresh start and a new start for a lot of kids, a lot of individuals that have aspirations, and for us to be able to follow their journeys, and know that Olivia is going to inspire them and touch them throughout their education, and throughout their development, and throughout everything they’re going to get to experience that unfortunately, our daughter won’t be able to.
“Being able to deliver her message – whether in spirit, whether in donations and grants and scholarships, or also small acts of kindness because she’s watching over this – we feel that everything we can do in our power to reach out and help other people around us, she’s going to be there with the biggest smile on her face, like she’s siting right next to us. That’s giving us the motivation, the inspiration to wake up every single day and put one foot in front of the other – because we know she’s standing right there, saying: ‘Keep going. I’m right here with you.’ Having that comfort, having that feeling that we know she’s around gives us the desire, the want, the need to aspire for more; to fill these kids’ lives with joy and happiness, because that was her main thing in life, as well.”
Deeply caring and considerate, Olivia was passionate about helping others and dreamed of one day becoming a schoolteacher or a veterinarian.
For her mother Britney, the scholarship idea and initiative marks the ideal tribute to her daughter, whose love of learning and desire to make the world a better place will live on forever through the proud memories, celebrated successes, seized opportunities and fulfilled experiences of others.
“Olivia loved school,” Britney smiled. “She was very passionate about school. You can go back to her preschool teachers and ask! Everything about school – her friends, her teachers, the extracurricular activities, the clubs – she just loved it. She wanted to be a teacher or a vet – that was her dream, and we want to help other kids who have dreams. She isn't going to be able to follow her dreams and passions here on Earth, so the biggest way we can help people is by doing the scholarships and helping other people pursue their dreams.
“She would be so excited, and I think she knows. I believe she’s around us and she knows she’s helping us. She’s guiding us and I truly feel she’s guiding us in what she wants us to do, what her messages are. We will never understand why she had to go, and that’s the hardest thing we’ll have to live with for the rest of our lives, but knowing that if we’re able to help other families and kids who were like Olivia – compassionate, who loved school – and we’re able to help them continue to follow their dreams and passions in life, that will give us a little bit of comfort and joy and hope, to know that she meant something to the world and that she’s leaving an imprint on the world, even though she only lived 11 years. To know that we’re able to help others in honor of her, that means a lot to us.
“Our focus is to provide a scholarship (or multiple scholarships depending on how successful the Foundation is) to Attleboro High School students graduating. We live in Attleboro and we’ve had such enormous support from our community, and we want to start by giving back to a student in our community – someone who has the characteristics that Olivia had. She was kind, compassionate, a good student, she loved art, she played sports – someone who we feel is well-rounded. They don’t necessarily have to have the best grades, but someone who tries hard and is genuine and kind, and is involved in sports. As the Foundation grows, we would love to do so much more but that’s our goal right now.
“We loved Olivia so much. So many people loved her, and whether they knew her their whole life or for a year, many people have come up to us and told us how her light (she just had this light and this presence about her when she walked into a room and so many people felt that, no matter how long they knew her) – whether it was a friend or a teacher – they just felt there was something special about her. We want to give back to others in honor of her – the love we feel for her, we want to show to other people. I know she can see us and I feel her, and I feel like she's so proud and happy and excited that we're doing this because she loved her birthday. Everything was a celebration to her.
“Another big thing that we want to spread is kindness – encouraging other people to be kind, whether it’s kids or adults, because she was so happy and kind to everyone: to animals, to children, to adults. She was just so kind and happy, and we want to spread that to other people, too. We feel it’s our job now to spread that in the world. If someone can just do an act of kindness in her name, that means just as much to us as donating money to help with a scholarship.”
To help spread those special acts of kindness, the Foundation has also created the ‘Love For Liv’ campaign.
Encompassing Olivia’s warmth and generosity, the movement hopes to inspire positive and meaningful connection between people, spreading her light and love through the local community and beyond.
“It’s just being able to give back, being able to touch someone within the community about her message, about her light, about her love,” Brad continues. “We started Love For Liv – we’ve created bracelets, web pages, social media pages just for people to connect with Olivia. Whether you’ve known her for five minutes or 11 years, everyone has a story about Olivia, and being able to carry that legacy on, we’re so excited to launch her Foundation.
“I think the first thing we’re going to do in her honor, in her name, is have a toy drive. We talked about her loving Christmas and we’re going to team up with Rodman Arena down the street, and they’re going to put on a toy drive. All the proceeds are going to go to the Olivia Knighton Foundation. We’re so thankful to get that started and there will be more details to follow. We know we’re going to have a lot of work ahead of us, and we’re super eager and excited to get started, to be able to begin this process of spreading her light, her love and her passions to everyone out in the community – not just here locally, but worldwide.”
Touched by the story of Olivia’s kind heart, there has been an emotional outpouring of support for Brad, Britney and their family over the past few months.
With plans to honor her at her brothers’ school on National Acts of Kindness Day, a special memorial patch adorning New England Revolution Academy jerseys, and commemorative bracelets made, the Knighton family are incredibly grateful for the love they have received and continue to receive.
“I just feel like there are all of these wonderful acts of love and kindness that people are doing,” Britney added. “The boys’ school (Hill-Roberts Elementary School) – that’s where Olivia went to school and that’s where our sons Owen and Brooks go to school – the PTO President and Olivia’s basketball coach reached out to me and asked if they could honor Olivia on National Acts of Kindness Day, which is November 13. They all had interactions with Olivia and just loved her and adored her, and they felt like they wanted to honor her on that day by doing acts of kindness and having an assembly at the school, talking about how we can be kind to one another, talking about Olivia and who she was.
“That really has meant a lot to us that they thought of her for this special day. Their plan is to do acts of kindness and paper chains, so everyone writes down when they do an act of kindness, and they link the pieces of paper all together. All the classrooms will have acts of kindness chains, and I think that’s a really special thing that Olivia had only known some of these people for a year or two, but she made such an impact on them, because she was so kind and just full of life and love.
“My sister has created these business cards with Olivia’s picture, her name and the date when she passed, and the Olivia Knighton Foundation emblem. It also has a quote by Mother Teresa: ‘We can’t all do great things. But we can do small things with great love’ and that’s how I feel. We can’t all give thousands of dollars but if you buy someone’s coffee for the day, or you just smile at someone, or hold the door open for someone, that’s just special and that’s who Olivia was. We’re going to be passing these cards around the community and at the bottom, it says: ‘Do a small act of kindness in honor of Olivia Knighton and pass it onto the next person.’ It’s a physical thing with Olivia’s picture to remember her, and to remember to just be kind.
“There’s also a bracelet company called The Little Words Project and they make beautiful bracelets. One of the moms of Olivia’s best friends reached out to the company, and they made two: one that has black beads and another that has teal beads (because her favorite color was teal) with the words ‘Love For Liv.’ You can go on the website and purchase the bracelet, and they are doing it as a charity fundraiser, so a percentage of the proceeds is going to Attleboro Youth Soccer because she played soccer for a long time in Attleboro, so that’s another thing.”
Olivia followed in her father’s footsteps with her passion for soccer.
Brad enjoyed a 16-year professional playing career, spending a club record 12 seasons with the New England Revolution, before stepping into coaching with the club’s Academy, currently leading the club's Under-19 team. The former goalkeeper has been deeply moved to see his daughter remembered within the sport that meant so much to him and his family.
“The outpouring of love has been phenomenal,” he stated. “The month after Olivia passed, they had a game down in Wilmington at UNCW (University of North Carolina Wilmington) where we both went to college. Britney is actually wearing the shirts they were selling for Olivia’s game, raising money for a scholarship for one of the athletes at UNCW. There’ll be a scholarship in her name that they’re going to give for the next five years, and so we were able to raise a significant amount of money to create a scholarship in her name for another athlete at UNCW. That was the first of many acts of kindness, and what better way to do it than at Wilmington where we went to school, and for a sport that she loved? We were really blessed and fortunate with Aidan Heaney, all of UNCW Athletics, the men’s soccer program, the support from the alumni, the university and all of the players. It’s been phenomenal.
“We’re so thankful to the Kraft family and the New England Revolution organization as a whole from top to bottom. The Academy, with the help of Rob [Becerra], B.J. [Noble], Liam [Connors], Jasir [Charris] and Michael [Milazzo], they’ve just been phenomenal. Just being able to want to do something, to figure out what to do and honor Olivia in that way. They thought about creating the jersey patch – the same patch that’s on the UNCW shirts – and so, being able to have every single player in the Academy wearing that on their jersey is something special. The coaches are wearing them as well on their training tops, and it just really hits home that we have such a good support system around us. Everybody that loved her and believes in her, everyone’s been there for us since day one, and that really means a lot to us because that’s what family does – family is there to provide support when people are in need.
“From day one, the Krafts have been there, the Revolution organization has been there. Being able to carry Olivia’s logo on our jerseys every single game in the Academy is something special, and it brings a tear to my eye of joy. I know a lot of the first team guys have been asking about having the patch on their jerseys, and there are different rules and regulations within MLS, but to be able to shine her light and carry it on, and have the kids wearing her patch on their chest is incredible. A lot of teams are doing a moment of silence, as well, and that’s just really nice to hear and see. I know that for the game this weekend in D.C., they’re going to do a moment of silence for Olivia’s birthday. Knowing that the love and support is out there – not only in this community but worldwide – is something special and something that really brings joy to us both.
“We’re just forever thankful and grateful. So many people have been touched by this and moved by this, and it just makes us feel so great to know that so many people are out there in the community, there by our side and helping us through this really difficult time. We’re so thankful and blessed to have a great support system around us and our boys, and hopefully in the future, that continues to grow, and we can continue to wake up every single morning and be happy and carry on the love for Liv, and carry one foot in front of the other. Every day is a test but we know she’s right there by our side, and that gets us up in the mornings and gets us going and sets our day right, because that’s what she would have done. To everyone that’s reached out and done a small act of kindness, or a phone call, or a text or anything, it really means a lot to us, and we are forever thankful.”
In loving memory of Olivia Grace Knighton
(November 3, 2011 – July 19, 2023)
To share your support for the Olivia Knighton Foundation, please visit: www.oliviaknightonfoundation.org