It didn't take long for Erin Riley to feel at home at Stroud after transferring in the final weeks of last year.
“I love it,” the 14-year-old said. “Everybody's so nice here. I didn't know how nice people could be until I came here.”
Riley will run in the half marathon Sunday at the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon, wearing a shirt for the Isaac Project.
Soon after Riley transferred to Stroud, she started seeing classmates with “Isaac Project” T-shirts.
“I didn't know if it was a band or what,” Riley said.
She asked her English teacher about the shirts, and the teacher directed her to Saundra Arnold.
Riley didn't have Arnold, a vocal teacher at the school, for class but the two quickly found a bond.
Arnold's 7-year-old son, Isaac, died from complications of the flu last year.
After Isaac's death, Arnold was talking with a friend and they decided to do something to keep Isaac's memory alive.
“He was such a friendly kid,” Arnold said. “Everybody he met, he would talk to them.
“She felt like that's something that should be shared.”
Arnold came up with the Isaac Project.
She wrote a children's book, with the themes of kindness, friendship and acceptance and an anti-bullying message.
Arnold planned on self-publishing the book before Tate Publishing picked it up.
Once published, Arnold's goal is to put the book in every elementary school library in the state.
Each shirt sold makes it possible for the book to be placed in one more school.
“I've always wanted to write a children's book, and bullying is one of the things I wanted to address,” she said. “I was always afraid my children would go through something like that.”
The message was one Riley could relate to.
“It's not a new subject for me,” Riley said. “I sat there and watched my sister get bullied her whole high school years. I've experienced it.
“I want other kids to know about this.”
Regina Riley wasn't surprised her daughter fit in at Stroud or that she found a cause to help promote.
“She's passionate about things,” Regina Riley said. “She came to this new school, found about the project and learned about it. She did it all on her own.”
Riley took up sports at a young age and made the transfer knowing that she would have to sit out a year, at least on the varsity level.
She took up running about three years ago on the suggestion of her basketball coach.
“I didn't like it at first,” Riley said. “But after a couple weeks, it started being fun.
“Everybody else has ‘me' time. That's my ‘me' time. I just think about my day. It really relaxes me.”
Arnold sees some of Isaac in Riley.
“There's so much negativity in the world,” she said. “If we can, through this project, get people to understand that words of kindness are the way to go, it'll be worth it. That's the best way to combat bullying and spread kindness. I rarely heard him (Isaac) say anything negative.
“Erin is the same way. I've never seen that child say a negative word. She always has a smile on her face.”