Teal, kindness highlight lessons left behind by Lawrence High alum James Lynch

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Amid the red and black adorning Lawrence High homecoming festivities this fall, a pop of teal ushered in a campaign promoting kindness at the school.

Here’s the story behind the movement and James Lynch, the 2017 alum who inspired it.

Kara Lynch remembers her son, James, as someone who personified kindness.

Every time James would walk into a store he’d greet an employee and ask how they were doing, Kara said, and on the way out he’d tell them to have a great day. In elementary school, James made a daily habit of finding the Corpus Christi Catholic School food service staff after lunch so he could thank them for his meal.

And last December, during a Christmas Day celebration at Kara and Eric Lynch’s home in southwestern Lawrence, James was seated next to a guest he’d just met.

“I was sitting over here, and I heard him say, ‘Tell me the best thing that’s happened to you today,’” Kara remembered with a smile. “I just thought, ‘God bless you.’”

A goal to make every person feel seen, heard and included — that was James, from youth through adulthood, “to the core,” Kara said.

A month before Christmas, Kara remembered, James had embarked on a road trip to Mexico on his own. During the excursion, James felt inspired to launch a mission called “Kindness, Just Because.” So for Christmas, Kara and Eric gifted their only son a custom-made, long-sleeved teal T-shirt imprinted with that sentiment.

“We made him a shirt because I was so tickled. I thought, ‘What a beautiful idea.’ And the reason it’s the color it is was because everything was picked over. Only a few colors left,” Kara laughed. “So that’s it, but it’s perfect.”

A photo snapped on Christmas morning — and later included with James’ obituary — features the bearded and bespectacled 23-year-old sporting his new shirt, a nose ring and a glowing smile. It would be one of the last moments the family would share with James.

Tricia Masenthin/Lawrence Times A candle serves as a frame for a photo taken of James Lynch on Christmas Day 2022.

Two days later, friends and family members found themselves grappling with the grief and shock of losing James, who died from a fentanyl overdose at his home in Ottawa just after Christmas.

But even while they felt overcome by grief, they formulated a plan to carry on James’ legacy of kindness.

Within a week of James’ death, Kara had launched a GoFundMe effort with the intent to fund small, random acts of kindness in the community in honor of James. To date, the fund has raised more than $13,000 and helped others in numerous ways.

The money has paid for car repairs, provided support for the adoptive family of one of the beloved dogs James left behind, funded movie outings, helped a service worker who provided exceptional service to the Lynch family and more. Thousands of teal “Kindness, Just Because” stickers and hundreds of signs and T-shirts have been printed and shared throughout the Lawrence community and at LHS.

Tricia Masenthin/Lawrence Times Signs promoting the kindness campaign inspired by James Lynch line 19th Street in October.

Susie Mička, a reading specialist who teaches literacy workshop and interpersonal skills (IPS), remembers James as a leader but not so much in the conventional sense. He lived leadership by the way he treated others and how “what really matters is the person,” according to Mička.

“As his teacher, James taught me a lot about allowing people to be who they are and do the best they can do,” Mička said in an email.


In the IPS program, students of all abilities work on projects together, promote campaigns on inclusivity and acceptance, take field trips, and socialize while sharpening their leadership skills. James was an important part of IPS as an upperclassman at LHS, and he continues to be, Mička said. 

Like many teens and young adults, James struggled to feel like he fit in. He also experienced anxiety and depression, according to Kara. At times, he turned to substance misuse — including prescribed medications such as Xanax — to cope, which eventually led James down the dangerous path of addiction.

Contributed photo James (left) and Kara Lynch

“There was a lot of joy and a lot of pain,” said Kara, who described James as very sensitive and empathetic — someone who not only related to others’ feelings but felt highs and lows very deeply.

Those who knew James agreed that even when he struggled, he maintained his polite and caring nature.

“But when he was in class or playing Unified Sports, he was wholly present, charismatic, and had such a positive presence,” Mička said.

Sharing James’ story offers “a real and timely way” to talk with students about mental health and self-medicating, said Mička, who has taught IPS for 14 years.

“James was a leader, and often the leaders seem untouchable. Young people feel invincible; they think these events reside on the news,” Mička said. “My students must confront the reality that they are not out of bounds for tragedy to strike and they must take care of themselves. They must be mindful of the decisions they make.”

Tricia Masenthin/Lawrence Times The living room of Kara and Eric Lynch’s home hosts a tribute to their son, James Lynch, who died in December 2022.

Another lesson from James: Everyone can afford kindness.

“There doesn’t need to be a reason to be kind, it doesn’t have to be planned out, it doesn’t have to cost anything, it’s just a state of mind that drives our daily interactions,” Mička said. “We have also learned and experienced the emotional pay back to being kind, the giver gets as much from it as the receiver.”

At LHS, James participated in choir, swimming and cross-country. Kara said her son was well-liked and nominated for Winter Court his senior year. The Lynch family and James’ best friend, Nico Carlson, also a 2017 alum and former IPS student, were invited to help launch the “Kindness, Just Because” campaign.

In addition to their kindness-themed float at the homecoming parade Sept. 27, IPS sponsored a teal-out during the Oct. 6 LHS home football game against Gardner-Edgerton.

Kara said she felt “blown away” walking into the stadium, where “so many details had been taken care of.” Numerous kindness signs, face painting, teal T-shirts and hair ribbons, and other embellishments flooded the stadium.


“And then there’s a huge sign that was just the perfect color. Just the details blew me away. And I thought, ‘They didn’t just do it for that night. They talked about this topic for three, four weeks,’” Kara said.

Carlson thought James would “be filled with joy with how his movement has impacted so many and how it has been a huge deal at LHS.”

“He would be impressed by how people have came together to be a part of something bigger than him and that’s what he’s always wanted is to be a part of something that surpasses him and his actions can just do all the work,” Carlson said in a text message.

Nico Carlson and James Lynch as preteens, and in 2017

On Wednesday, the kindness campaign continued with a message shared during a Chesty’s House meeting. The group aims to promote a positive and safe school culture and celebrate diversity at LHS by combating racism, harassment and discrimination.

After a slideshow and discussion, group members created and hung posters to spread the message of kindness throughout the school.

Those who are interested in a sign, stickers or a T-shirt can contact Kara Lynch on Messenger, follow her on Facebook, email her at karalynch1313@gmail.com or call/text her at 785-218-4241.

Contributed/Marci Leuschen Students attend a Chesty’s House meeting at Lawrence High on Nov. 1, 2023.
Tricia Masenthin/Lawrence Times A bureau in the home of Kara and Eric Lynch honors the memory of their son, James, and provides space to display his art, photos and other remembrances.
Maison Flory/Contributed photo Students march with the IPS program during Lawrence High’s homecoming parade Sept. 27, 2023.
Maison Flory/Contributed photo
Maison Flory/Contributed photo
Tricia Masenthin/Lawrence Times A photo of James Lynch laughing with his cousins rests on a table near the front door of the Lynches’ home in southwestern Lawrence.
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Tricia Masenthin (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at tmasenthin (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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