river ellis foundation sunrise

After they experienced the unexpected tragic loss of their daughter, River, Doug and Rachel Ellis have come together to bring hope and sunrises through the River Ellis Foundation.

An Unexpected Tragedy

There was no reason to think their delivery would be anything but normal. But in the hospital, their daughter, River had an unexpected accident and went directly to the NICU. Two days after River Ellis breathed her first breath, she also breathed her last.

“It was one of those situations where we found ourselves totally unprepared,” says Doug Ellis, River’s father. “We’d gone to the hospital that day with every intention and thought that all was well. it was literally an accident that just happened. We were thrust into a very, very dark place. We didn’t fit into a box, but we still needed help and there weren’t organized groups” that supported these kinds of unexpected tragedies.

In the midst of this difficult and unexpected situation, Doug and Rachel felt very fortunate. Their bosses were accommodating and gave them extra time off to grieve and take care of what they needed. Friends and family rallied around them, providing them with meals and support.

One of their best friends had also lost a child at a young age. He immediately flew up from Atlanta unannounced to sit by their hospital bed with them. He told them “you’re going to get out the other side of it. This is not gonna be fun. I can’t tell you that this is gonna be okay. But there’s a sunrise out there for you. You’ll find it in time.” Doug says, “that was worth more than any nurse or guidance counselor giving advice.”

Finding a Sunrise

Doug and Rachel took that advice to heart and wanted to give hope and the promise of a new sunrise to others like them, who had experienced unexpected loss. About one year after River’s death, Doug and Rachel founded the River Ellis Foundation, “a nonprofit organization helping those in the Hampton Roads community who have recently encountered an unexpected hardship and are in need of a sunrise.”

As the Ellises worked on building their foundation, Rachel was also pregnant with their second child, born 2 weeks before it launched. “Metaphorically we were building up to our sunrise who came at the end of August,” says Rachel. “It doesn’t take away the pain, certainly, but it’s brought us joy. He certainly is our sunrise.”

“Day-to-day challenges still tough, but it’s a little easier to stop and think, remember where we were? We have a terrible perspective, but we can focus on the good,” says Rachel.

Doug Rachel Ellis family

Doug, Henry, and Rachel Ellis

The River Ellis Foundation

“We started the River Ellis Foundation in her honor to support people in the Hampton Roads community who find themselves in the midst of unexpected hardship or tragedy, specifically those things that don’t really have specific groups for them,” says Doug. “People find themselves going through something they don’t anticipate and need a little extra help.”

Rather than creating a large complex institution, the Foundation works on plugging the holes. “We’re not there to rebuild the ship,” Ellis says, “but we’re trying to get them from Point A to Point B when they need short-term assistance.”

“It’s literally people in the middle of their darkest hour,” says Rachel, “and you’re giving them a glimmer of hope to make it a little bit brighter.”

The River Ellis Foundation has already been able to provide assistance to others who find themselves in difficult times. A few months ago, it purchased a car for a mother who had to flee a domestic abuse situation. Thanks to her new vehicle, she and her children have been able to start a new life.

The River Ellis Foundation and COVID-19

The structure of the River Ellis Foundation has given it great opportunities to help others in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. “We have a group of volunteers who are making masks for the medical staff at local hospitals. Our volunteers were also asked to make masks out of cute baby fabric for the new moms at Sentara Princess Anne. which we donated last week,” said Doug and Rachel

“The Foundation recently assisted a family who was having financial difficulty when their child ended up in the ICU after a tragic accident and the mother was furloughed because of COVID-19. We anticipate this will be a trying time for many, and we are in the ready position to help!

logo River Ellis foundationGive a Sunrise

As we’ve all learned through the spread of COVID-19, sometimes terrible things happen that we can’t control. The River Ellis Foundation has been doing a great job plugging the gap between those who can help and those who need it.

Whether volunteering to make masks for healthcare workers or quickly providing money, vehicles, or support to those in need, the Foundation is standing alongside those in the Virginia Beach community who need an extra dose of joy.  Be sure to visit their website and follow them on social media to learn more about what they’re doing, and how to be part of it.

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Laura KrausAuthor posts

Laura Kraus

Laura was born with many stories to tell and has been writing in one way or another ever since. She's written TV news stories, blogs, children's cartoons, legal briefs, commercials, and everything in between. In addition to working for FamilyApp, she's also architecting the Faithful Beginnings School Readiness Guide for preschoolers. She loves traveling, new adventures, finding a great bargain, and reading to her three children.

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