Olathe girl’s precious legacy leads family to start movement helping first responders comfort children

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OLATHE, Kan. -- The most precious legacy a little girl left behind was her hugs. Now a Johnson County family is using the embrace to help first responders and others who deal with trauma in the community.

On July 27 outside of an Olathe home daycare, tragedy struck. A grandfather picking up another child ran over 14-month-old Harper Rodden, killing her.

The life of the girl with a world class smile and sparkle in her eyes is being honored by her family, because of the most precious gift Harper gave everyone she met was her hugs.

"She would not let go. She would wrap around your neck, she was strong, she would hug you with her entire soul," said mom Whitney Rodden.

With the help of Harper's sister Kinsley and her brother Cole, the Rodden family started a movement called “Harper's Hugs.” They deliver stuffed animals to police departments, fire stations, and even women's shelters.

"Some people just leave their situations and the children have nothing, and this, whew, breaks my heart that that even happens,” Harper’s mom explained.

Whenever there is a child in need, little bundles of joy are used to help show that they are cared for.

"We can use that to gain their trust and showing them that we are there protecting them and keeping them safe from any kind of harm," said Olathe Police Officer John Moncayo.

It is also a way for the Roddens and safety forces to increase awareness about driver attentiveness, child care safety and safe play areas.

Whitney Rodden says she is working on changing laws to better protect children, but Harper's Hugs is something she can do now to help raise awareness and spread love.

"Give them a squeeze to send them on their way. We can't get her back, but we can help prevent it from happening, because it is 100 percent preventable and I don't want people to think it can't happen to them,” Whitney Rodden said.

Since Thanksgiving 850 stuffed animals have been donated in 32 states and seven countries. It’s quite an impact made by a beautiful life that ended way too soon.