Most people in Park City, Utah, know the name Sam Jackenthal, who lived a short 16 years but left a big impact on anyone who knew him.
Many initially got to know him as an athlete, which was a passion that started early. Even as a little kid, Sam was obsessed with flying.
“He really took to being in the air,” says his dad, Rob Jackenthal. “He’d launch off the swing set. He loved to be airborne. He liked to fly.”
That passion led to a promising career in freestyle skiing and inline skating. Living in Park City helped bring that dream to pass. Sam was often found on the slopes practicing his moves. He attended the Winter Sports School, which had a modified schedule to allow for more winter sports training.
“He had a great perception of where his body was, even in the air. But he was also athletically driven. If he was going to learn a trick, he’d do it 100 times,” Ron explains.
When he was 15, Same won the overall combined title at the U.S. Junior Freestyle Championship, and he was also a top-ranked inline skater internationally. Certainly, Sam was riding high, and his future looked bright.
Then Sam got the opportunity of a lifetime—the chance to train in Australia at the Perisher Resort. It was a full-circle moment for him—he’d written a story at age 6 that foretold that someday, he’d “be a professional skier in Australia and live with the kangaroos.”
Sam’s dream had come true, and his family couldn’t be happier for him. Until they got the call. Sam had been in a skiing accident.
“He probably had the best day of his life,” Ron recalls.
Sam would spent nearly a month in the hospital, and the social media eruption and vigils and fundraising back home in Park City helped the family tremendously.
As Ron remembers, “A lot of people were rooting for him.” Unfortunately, Sam passed away. But what came next proved that even in death, Sam could continue to fly.
Back in Park City following Sam’s death, 1,400 people attended a public memorial in Olympic Park to offer their love and support for the family.
“It was just magical how much connection they had to him,” Ron says.
The thing was, while Sam was a strong athlete, what people remembered about him was much more than that. People remembered Sam’s positivity, kindness, generosity, and happy attitude.
“He burned really bright. The way people felt after meeting him—they couldn’t help but smile,” Ron remembers.
The year or so following Sam’s death, many local fundraisers in his name mixed with other organizations to offer help to people in the area. And when the outpouring of community love didn’t fizzle, Ron decided to make it official and start Live Like Sam, a nonprofit that empowers youth to be better people.
The group’s mission is this: “Live Like Sam exists to help our youth reach their dreams and excel in life.” Since 2017, more than $200,000 has been granted to support over 200 youth and provide more than 30 scholarship programs to deserving youth.
Initially, Ron decided to quit his job and devote a year to getting Live Like Sam up and running. Four years later, he’s still at it, with 30 community partners and countless others who offer help.
“These people won’t go away,” he says of the community that even after all this time show love for Sam and his memory.
Recently, Ron and his daughter, Skylar, presented at a local elementary school about Live Like Sam. Even these young children, who were only one or two years old when Sam died, already knew who Sam was and what he was all about.
“When I asked, ‘What does it mean to Live Like Sam?’ they all had answers. Literally, I was crying,” Ron explains.
And what were their answers? Every day is a precious day. Be optimistic. Live a big, beautiful life.
Shaping the Organization
After a lot of research and learning, Ron and Skylar both have realized what Live Like Sam needs to offer: tools and hope. Children especially are vulnerable to challenging times. The question is, what will they do when things are tough?
They’ve been working with curriculum creators of Well-Being Elevated to develop a program called THRIVE, which will help Park City youth to learn resiliency, self-identity, gratitude, self-compassion, and other skills.
“It’s basically life coaching for youth,” Ron says. Classes are filling up now for a start date in early 2022. While initially intended for high school age kids, the hope is to extend the classes to younger kids as well.
Skylar, who is currently attending college in Boston, decided to take on a more active role in Live Like Sam as a way to remember her brother, but also because she was already naturally involved in the decision-making process.
“During our father-daughter phone calls, we couldn’t talk without discussing Live Like Sam,” Skylar explains. Plus, being from a younger generation, Skylar hopes that she can offer a different perspective to the organization.
The brain child she’s really excited about is the Give Like Sam Grant, which offers money to help local youth carry out a service project. Youth can apply online until November 29, and winners will be notified in mid-December. Grants awarded will be between $100-$750 based on the project proposal.
The goal is for local youth to look outside themselves and dive into giving on a larger scale.
“At its core, Live Like Sam is to help make youth better people, and doing service can help that,” says Skylar. “The challenge is that service projects can be costly, which is why the grants got started.” Skylar recalls doing a service trip to Africa, which cost thousands. “I hope that more people would do service if more funds were available.”
In doing a service project, local youth can realize the impact they have on others, Skylar says, but it can also give them some leadership experience and help them with their college plans and other big dreams they have for the future.
And while Sam had big dreams, one thing is for sure—he’d be proud of his dad and sister for what they’ve been able to accomplish so far with Live Like Sam. And he’d be equally proud of his community for their outpouring of love and support, which will ultimately help other youth to spread their wings and fly.
Visit livelikesam.org to learn more.
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