'Holliedays': Biloxi family turns a teen's death into pay-it-forward tribute

Family turns teen's death into pay-it-forward tribute

mhalford@sunherald.comJune 27, 2014 

Cards honor memory of Hollie Gonsulin.

TIMISBELLSH

BILOXI -- In May, 11-year-old Scotty Gonsoulin spotted an elderly woman loading groceries into her car in the Gulfport Wal-Mart parking lot. He told his mom, "Stop the car," and jumped out to help her. The woman tried to pay Scotty for his help, but he shook his head, handed her a laminated card and said, "No ma'am, just do something nice for my sister.'"

The small card sported a pink border and a picture of Scotty's 16-year-old sister, Hollie, a spunky D'Iberville High School junior who died in her sleep of natural causes in April. Across the top it said "Holliedays," and the front and back gave pay-it-forward instructions about doing something nice for someone else to keep Hollie's memory alive.

"I've never lost anyone this close to me, and for it to be your child, it's just horrible," said Tina Gonsoulin, Hollie's mother. "I had people wanting to do scholarships in her name, but that's just once a year. I needed something every day, year-round, to keep me busy. I'm just trying to deal with it the best way I know how."

Tina Gonsoulin said her daughter was the "life of the party," but she always took time to help someone in need.

"If she saw a homeless person with a sign that said 'hungry' she would go to McDonald's and buy them a Happy Meal," she said of her daughter, a girly-girl who stayed busy on dance, tennis and track teams. "She was always doing stuff like that. She would just love this."

With the help of a Facebook group and a sparkly pink notebook, the Gonsoulins are able to keep track of the cards, which have made their way to 12 states and seven countries.

"We started this with just 100 cards about a month

ago," Tina Gonsoulin said. "Last Friday I ordered 2,000 more. That's how fast it's grown, it's gotten really big. I'm shocked."

The stories of Holliedays range from someone buying coffee for a stranger to an entire office staff chipping in to pay for a needed biopsy a co-worker couldn't afford.

"She would have loved this," said 21-year-old Hillary Gonsoulin, Hollie's sister. "She was always doing nice things for people. She would give money to people on the side of the road, that sort of thing."

Tina Gonsoulin said she's amazed at how her community has reached out since Hollie's death. From someone making a quilt of her daughter's favorite T-shirts to creating leopard-print bracelets with Hollie's initials, people have stepped up to show support.

"I started out trying not to think about it, but then I would feel guilty and cry because I felt like I was trying not to think about her," Hollie's mom said. "So we decided on this -- do something nice for somebody, then let them pass it on."

Just about every day, she goes to Office Depot for newly printed cards and the post office to mail them to people.

"I wanted something to keep me busy, and it's keeping me busy," she said. "But I'm not complaining."

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