Sept. 25 was a typical day. Kristi Bowers of Cedar Rapids put her twin 17-month-old sons — Vinnie and Theo — down for a nap.
When Bowers went to wake them, though, Vinnie did not wake up.
He was perfectly healthy with no known complications before he died. An autopsy was done, but his parents requested not to see the results.
To cope with the loss, Bowers started a blog, The Blue Sky Project, as a way to remember her young son.
“I never expected it to be anything bigger than just something that was helping us,” Bowers said.
But Vinnie’s story captured the hearts of people all over the country.
The idea to send the Bowers to Disney World came from a stranger, a woman from Florida who was touched by Vinnie’s story. She contacted Makenzie Schultz, a friend of the Bowers who helped make the trip a reality.
“She’s doing a lot of the stuff in Florida and I’m doing a lot of the coordinating here,” Schultz said. “Then we just put it together like one big puzzle and it’s worked out perfectly.”
They set up a private Facebook group, raising $20,000 in secret to send the Kristi and Ben Bowers and their three children, Harper, 5, Ellery, 3, and Theo to Disney World. The family left Thursday and is in Disney World this week.
Strangers helped pay for amenities, including car rental fees, passes to theme parks and a welcome party to greet them at the Orlando International Airport.
“People are donating amounts that we never expected,” Schultz said. “We thought people would be donating $25 and that would be amazing and that would’ve been a lot, but people are donating hundreds and these are people that don’t even know them.”
Nearly five weeks ago, Schultz surprised the Bowerses with the trip, something they never expected.
“It’s so awesome that people were thinking to do something like that for us,” Kristi Bowers said.
The trip comes at a delicate time for the family. It’s been just more than two months since Vinnie’s passing.
“It’s bittersweet …,” said Ben Bowers, Vinnie’s dad. “It’s such a hard time for us and our family, but this will be just a great trip to get away.”
Schultz hopes this will be an opportunity for the Bowerses to grieve and heal together away from home.
“This trip is going to be magical for our kids and for us,” Kristi Bowers said. “It is going to be a time that we can start healing as a family.”
They say this outpouring of support is their son’s legacy. The Bowerses hope to use their tragedy to inspire others not to take friends and family for granted.
“Nobody’s promised tomorrow,” Kristi Bowers said.
“They’re not promised the day after that so we want to make sure people appreciate their kids, the people in their lives, tell them that they love them and just live today for today.”