Teen's nonprofit raises money after friend's death

GREENWOOD VILLAGE -- From the moment they met at their brothers' hockey games, Ella Rakowski and Rylie Guentensberger were kindred spirits.

"She was kind and so caring, and she had the biggest heart," said Ella with a smile. "She always thought about everyone else."

But the accident almost one year ago changed everything -- a car plowed into a Parker running store, hitting Rylie, and she died 28 days later.

"We were all devastated," said Heather Rakowski, Ella's mother, who said the loss has been tough for her daughter, who has been looking for something to do to remember Rylie. "Ella is that type of person. She has a big heart, and she always wants to give back. So, when she mentioned Rylie always wore sporty headbands, why don't we do something like that, I thought, That's the perfect idea.' I am super proud of her."

In her school's leadership class, Ella came up with a business plan for "Ella's Bella Bands", featuring a headband she designed herself in her friend's honor.

"It has a blue lotus flower on it because Riley's favorite flower," she said. "And it means love prosperity and purity and I thought that really represented her, and blue was her favorite color."

But she had no idea how well her business would do. In two days, she was sold out, and by two months, she was close to selling out again.

"I actually planned on just buying 80. But we sold over 400 headbands and made a profit over $2600," said Ella.

All of the proceeds go to Rylie's ARK (Acts of Random Kindness), a foundation Rylie's parent's just started, launching the website yesterday. They remember a little girl who shaved her head for charity at age eight and had a special intuition about helping others.

"She was notorious for leaving random motivational notes for people everywhere, sliding them in holes in lockers and taping them to teacher's doors," said Meghann Guentensberger, Rylie's mother. "It's partially Rylie's story, but it's the same good-hearted nature that Ella has with the desire to do good in a world that's not the norm."

Ella has been receiving orders from teams all over the country and thank you notes from people sending donations because they are inspired by Riley's story.

"This one says, 'My family doesn't have a lot of money, but I do hope these checks will make a difference in the world. God bless you," Ella read. "Even though they might not have had a personal connection, they would still feel that love and know they're helping out and donating to a great cause."

Those headbands are $7, and Ella hopes to sell more for Rylie's foundation. To see her website, click here.

Meanwhile, Rylie's family is planning Rylie's Run on Mother's Day. For more information, click here.

  

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