From tragedy to legacy:
Wesley Belisle’s memory lives on through his foundation

By on July 11, 2019

This story first appeared on the Outer Banks Sentinel

‘Wesley really was our sunshine.’ (Photo courtesy Wesley’s Way Foundation)

It’s been about 15 months since the tragic death of four-year-old Wesley Belisle, who was suddenly swept into the ocean off Kitty Hawk — a heartbreaking accident that made national headlines and generated an outpouring of grief and support among Outer Banks residents.

Just two months after that tragedy, Wesley’s parents set up a non-profit foundation inspired by their son’s love of learning and willingness to help those around him. To date, Wesley’s Way Foundation has donated roughly $5,000 to the Outer Banks community – providing funds to feed those in need, donating money toward an ocean safety campaign and contributing to Nags Head’s Dowdy Park.

The foundation’s mission includes spreading awareness about the dangers of the ocean; promoting literacy and education; providing school supplies and toys for underprivileged children; and enhancing parks and playgrounds. The organization also supports causes in line with its mission in the family’s hometown of Manchester, New Hampshire.

      “Wesley really was our sunshine,” Wesley’s mother, Lindsey, told the Sentinel in a recent interview. “It’s wonderful to bring sunshine to other people’s lives and help.”

The money earmarked for good causes on the Outer Banks is the family’s response to the community that supported it in many ways in the aftermath of Wesley’s death — with many donations, a memorial at the Lillian Street beach access in Kitty Hawk and the creation of the Little Red Mailbox of Hope #12 in Wesley’s name.

Those monetary gifts from the Outer Banks, New Hampshire and beyond are what spurred them to launch Wesley’s Way Foundation, according to Lindsey and her husband, Derek.

“We were very appreciative,” Lindsey said in a Sentinel interview. “But there was nothing in our life we could justify using the money for. We started thinking about a foundation and what things were important to Wesley.”

“We loved the Outer Banks,” Lindsey explained. “We are not locals, and unfortunately were there offseason and not as aware of what was going on” with ocean conditions. “There is so much pain and tragedy connected to [the Outer Banks].”

“It will be many years, if ever, before we venture back down,” she continued. “But we have such appreciation for the community that reached out to be sure we were taken care of.”

Most recently, Wesley’s Way Foundation donated $2,500 for dairy items for the Beach Food Pantry’s Summer Food for Kids. The money, according to Pantry Executive Director Elisabeth Silverthorne, will be used to provide milk, cheese and yogurt for roughly 200 children who participate in the program that lasts 13 weeks.

“During the school year, children regularly have a choice of dairy products to go with their school breakfasts and lunches,” said Silverthorne of the Food for Thought and free and reduced lunch programs. “So we felt it was important to offer some of these types of items over the summer as well.  But, if it wasn’t for the Wesley’s Way Foundation, we would not have been able to afford to do so.”

The foundation also provided Thanksgiving meals for 18 local families last year through the Beach Food Pantry. “They are a constant reminder to me that a positive and enduring legacy can come from any circumstances,” Silverthorne asserted.

Earlier this year, the foundation also made a contribution to Dowdy Park, which covered the cost of the bench in Wesley’s name, as well as other maintenance needs at the site. The family visited the park during the days before Wesley’s death. “Wesley really loved Dowdy Park,” his mother said, adding that they were impressed with the amount of inclusive playground equipment for children with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The Belisles also told the Sentinel that the foundation has donated funds to help with 10,000 ocean safety cards being printed by Outer Banks Forever, a non-profit fundraising partner of the three national parks on the Outer Banks, including Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

The family says it hopes to donate more to ocean safety efforts in the future. “We kept tabs on the [Outer Banks] tragedies last summer and a lot of the people were out-of-towners who were unaware of the dangers that come with the ocean,” noted Lindsey. “It’s incredibly dangerous. The ocean does what it wants to do. Our goal is to do anything we can to help. If it’s within our means, we want to do it.”

The foundation has also made significant contributions to organizations in its hometown of Manchester, NH, including donating classroom materials to six elementary schools that had an impact on 450 students in the city. They also donated 75 toys and 45 books to the local Salvation Army for a Christmas toy drive – naming the effort Wesley’s Wheels because of their son’s love for toy cars, trucks and other vehicles.

They say they hope to do the same for the Outer Banks community this coming holiday season.

Meanwhile, Wesley’s Mailbox, also referred to as the Little Red Mailbox #12, is still gathering messages and gifts at the Lillian Street beach access to honor him. The mailbox was erected at the site in May of 2018, and nearly three journals have been filled with messages at the site.

Deborah Mennicucci oversees the mailbox, decorating it on special occasions and maintaining the journals. She also keeps a Facebook page dedicated to it.

Of the mailbox, she said, “I hope it helps [the family] realize the community still cares for them. I think if they ever do come back and visit the little red mailbox, they’ll be surprised by how welcome they are.”

Recent posts in this category

Recent posts in this category

Windy Bill

This picture should be The Poster Child for increased ocean safety notices and publicity.