Our story

Matthew Emrick

Matthew Emrick

How did this all begin?

I’m having trouble knowing where to begin this story. I feel like most people, especially in this day and age, want a quick summary of what this project is about, what we are about, and why they should care. A few bullet points to make it succinct, make it grab your attention, and move on to the next thing. I get that. I feel that often. And that is exactly WHY I am struggling with this explanation. I’m not sure I can sum up this story into a twitter type explanation so here is my long-winded answer.

As with most powerful movements, there is a story behind this project, real people, real life experiences that woke us up to what is important. Up until becoming a mom to three beautiful children, the two biggest moments in my life are what led to the creation of The HIP ME Project. The first is meeting and falling in love with my husband of eighteen years, Bryan. The second is the sudden death of my beautiful little brother twelve years ago, Matt.

Joy and sorrow on the same coin. Kahlil Gibran’s writings on joy and sorrow are so powerful and on point, “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being the more joy you can contain.” That has been my experience.

We started a memorial scholarship at North Middle School in Aurora, CO after Matt died in 2006. Those first few days after he died are a blur, with the exception of some very tangible moments. One of those moments, so crystal clear in my brain, was a meeting with some of the teachers and staff at North just two days after Matt’s death. We gathered in the main office of the school to talk about how we were going to inform the hundreds of students that he was gone. We laughed and cried as they shared story after story about how Matt showed up everyday for his students. Stories I had never heard before because Matt did not boast about how much he was impacting the lives of hundreds of middle school students (whom by the way, we were told, he knew all of their names….all 700 of them).

One story from that morning sticks out among the rest. It was a cold winter day and one of the students, I think a 6th grader, showed up to school without a coat. This was not by choice. My teenage daughter often leaves the house without a coat because she doesn’t want to be bothered by it. But this student did not have a coat at all. Matt greeted this student, as he did all students that morning, and then left school during his morning break. He came back with a coat. That’s just what he did. No need to make a big deal about it. No need to tell everyone so he got credit for it. A child was at school on a cold day with no coat so Matt bought her a coat.

The power to connect, to see each other and hear each other, is available to most of us. BUT most of us forget that connection, to ourselves and each other. Most of us forget that we are ALL connected. And finding that connection is what we are here to do. Connect to our hearts so we may connect to one another. We get so distracted and caught up by things that do not matter in the end. And I can tell you, at the end of Matt’s life, what mattered most was how much he valued each and every student and how he intuitively knew to show them that every single day.

Two years after Matt’s death, Bryan and I received a phone call from Denver Human Services that they had two girls in need of a permanent home. We had just completed the foster-to-adopt training and were not expecting the call that soon. We were also not expecting two children at once. Ten years later, our daughters, now 14 and 11, have without a doubt been our greatest teachers and brightest lights. Because of the ways in which their early childhood trauma affects their lives daily, we have found ourselves on a path of healing. Healing from the grief over losing Matt, healing from the grief over several miscarriages, and healing from the ways in which the trauma our daughters endured impacts our entire family.

We know now that healing is a life long journey. It is also a journey of the heart, not head. And the more we ALL can drop into our heart-space and out of our head-space, the more connected we become. It is in those moments of connecting that the healing occurs. Somatic practices, such as yoga and guided meditations, have become invaluable pieces of this daily healing for us.

Our healing has led us to wanting to bring more resources, tools and love to other students, other young people, and their families. Bryan wants to do more of this in his pediatric practice, while connecting to other pediatricians, and I want to do more of this in middle and high schools. And we are not alone. We have AMAZING support from so many people and an incredible team (our founding Board of Directors) that have the same vision of healing and connection. Jennifer Minor, the former Assistant Principal at North, along with my older brother, Jason, and our parents, envisioned and implemented our first HIP ME space at North in 2017. We are taking what we learned from that experience as we move toward making this project official.

So there it is. The journey from marriage, to death, to birth, to a new project. We know this is the work of a lifetime and we are forever grateful we get to do it.

In love & endless gratitude, Tara