Aubrey, Texas counts a mere 2,700 residents among its population, but on the day of Ryan White’s funeral, that seemed enormous when a number almost half the town’s size arrived to pay respects. Ryan’s father, Wade White, could not fathom a man, just 18 years old, had impacted more than 1,350 lives in his tragically short life. And, yet, he wasn’t surprised.
Ryan died April 6, 2012 when his pickup collided with a tractor while cresting a hill on Farm-to-Market 428. It was Good Friday, White noted, just weeks from Ryan’s high school graduation. Following the funeral, an old friend called White to say that he hadn’t wanted to attend Ryan’s funeral, but he was glad he did.
“He said he’d been to a lot of funerals, and whether you’re 80 or 18, not everybody leaves a legacy like my son did,” White said.
Overcome with emotion, White pulled his car to the side of the road to process those words. He didn’t know it at the time, he said, but that conversation struck a match. White conceived a way to honor his son’s life and preserve the memory so evident in the community’s grief.
White created Measured By Character (MBC), a nonprofit initiative focused on community and youth connections. Its mission is to ensure that every single life matters and to spread that word that we all leave an impact, whether good or bad, on those around us.
Soon, Celina High School students will be among the first to receive its message.
Still in development, the plans for MBC will offer workshops, lectures, and events on a variety of platforms. Some for churches and community crusades are specifically faith-based. Others will focus more on integrated students into communities by offering support and inspiration. Tioga ISD in Grayson County will be the first district to present MBC to its students next Thursday, and Celina will follow with a student assembly March 6.
The presentation includes three videos and 15- to 20-minute talks by White addressing topics including responsibility, uniqueness and legacy.
From the beginning, White envisioned MBC focusing on youth and helping them understand their connection to a larger community, but he also knew it was important to offer the programming free of charge to school districts.
That’s where his lifelong friend John Patterson comes in. Focusing on fundraising efforts, sponsorship and business partnerships, Patterson helps manage MBC’s financial logistics.
“I’ve known Wade since we were about 14, and we shared a lot of passions, so even when life sent us separate ways, we were still kindred,” Patterson said. “The strengths he and I have separately really complement one another.”
Patterson said the community’s grief for Ryan helped him see a way he could leave hope, too.
“We took a bad situation and made a positive. That’s the kind of legacy we want to pass on to the kids,” Patterson said. “You don’t look at the negatives. You turn them around.”
One way Patterson’s done just that comes in the way he approaches fundraising partners.
“When we’d face financial obstacles, we’d reach out to the community because what’s better than having a buy-in to show the kids those businesses and leaders believe in them and invest in them?” he said.
MBC reached out to the Greater Celina Chamber of Commerce in partnership, and Patterson and White put feet on the ground throughout North Texas communities to put a face on the campaign. So far, Celina’s online fundraising site has raised $250 of its $5,000 goal. Those interested in donating may visit measuredbycharacter.com/Celina or send a check to 624 W. University Drive, #107, in Denton.
“We want them to know we’re legit,” he said. “So we’ve partnered with the schools to put out formal notices on their stationery. What’s neat is we get to share with them how they aren’t just supporting the program in their city, but helping it expand as it develops.”
To that end, White created a five-class module that schools may adopt following their initial one-day assembly presentations. In the future, he hopes MBC will eventually be able expand into a program that covers an entire school year. Celina ISD will prove an exciting early test case to determine its momentum.
“The schools we’re reaching out to have really solid communities; they have committed, small-town values and they really want to pour into the kids,” Patterson said.
White and Patterson understand that dynamic intimately. White said a couple of months ago, Ryan’s girlfriend shared with him a quote that Ryan wrote to her about a year before his death when he was just 17 years old.
“It said, ‘To create does not always mean to build but, rather, to chip away from ourselves,’” White said. “When she told me, it took me to my knees. That’s the very essence of what we are doing.”