When a mysterious person kept weaving in and out of Kevin Crowe’s life many years ago, he knew he just had to meet him. It turns out that Ryan Westerman was someone that Crowe would never forget.
Crowe is the founder of Give A Mile, a not-for-profit online platform based in Canada that is also a 501c charity in the U.S.; it helps family and friends to visit a palliative ill person or people with a life-threatening illness through crowdfunding of flights via donations of travel loyalty miles.
So far, more than 24 million travel loyalty points have been redeemed for over 730 flights of compassion. Give a Mile is a 100% donation model, as all miles donated go to people who need to travel to see a loved one or a friend and not to an organization in the middle. Funds that go to running the operation are raised separately.
Crowe started Give A Mile in 2013, years after finally meeting Westermann and eventually becoming best friends with this “mysterious stranger,” who unfortunately died from brain cancer in 2010.
“The universe works in mysterious ways,” Crowe says of how he and Westerman’s paths crossed back when they were both in college and Crowe was dating a classmate who had gone through a bad breakup with her high school love, who turned out to be Westermann.
“The more I heard about him from her, the more I was like, ‘Yeah, I think him and I would be pretty good friends,’” says Crowe, even though he and Ryan never met.
The Improbable Turn
Fast-forward to several years later when one of Crowe’s friends hitchhiked across Canada and was dropped off at Crowe’s house.
“He says, ‘I just had this incredible ride for the last three hours. You would absolutely love this guy. You got to meet this guy,’” Crowe says. “His name was Ryan Westermann. Still never met him.”
The improbable turned to eerie when a decade later, Crowe was working jobs at a growing technology company, and they were about to hire their first HR manager, a woman who told them she was originally from Regina. When Crowe mentioned that he used to date a woman in college who was from Regina, her eyes grew bigger.
“She says, ‘My husband is Ryan Westermann,’” Crowe says. “And not only is he now in the same city as me, but he ends up living just down the street from me. I say to her, ‘Hey, I got to meet him,’ and we become best buddies.”
Their families would hang out together, and when wives and children were asleep, the two men would grab a drink and meet in one on their backyards to watch the stars and gab.
“Absolutely such an incredible friendship,” Crowe says.
A Lasting Legacy
Unfortunately, the friendship took a terrible turn as Westermann was diagnosed with an incurable brain tumor that became very aggressive. In the year before cancer took his life, Westermann decided he didn’t want to wait for a funeral for long-lost friends to come to visit him one last time. With Crowe’s help, Westermann organized parties where he could see people who were important in his life, and they came from all over Canada and North America.
“He invited all his friends from kindergarten, the university, roommates,” Crowe says. “And everybody showed up. It was an incredible party. And even when he ended up in hospice, he’s like, ‘I still want to play poker with the boys,’ and we’d roll kegs in. Even the hospice nurses would help us set up the poker table.”
Crowe remembered those times when friends and family came to see Westermann — “Just these powerful moments” — and realized after the funeral that he needed to do something in his friend’s honor. He began by volunteering at Calgary’s Southwood Hospice, where once a week, Crowe would leave his job and distribute snacks at the 24-bed facility. He says he would sometimes see patients in their last days or weeks of life, and hear how they missed seeing absent family members, parents, grandparents, or siblings who often couldn’t afford plane fare to come to say goodbye.
In 2013, Crowe founded Give A Mile with the goal of helping family and friends of critically ill patients visit to help ease the pain and bring joy to the suffering. The response since then has been remarkable. In fact, of the over 730 flights they have arranged through the donated miles, over 160 have been international flights to connect family members from halfway around the globe.
Volunteers Coordinate Donations, Flights
Crowe works with about 20 volunteers who help solicit the donated miles, coordinate the flights, and ensure the red tape is eased as much as possible. Matthew Seagrim, Managing Director of SCENE, a joint venture between Cineplex and Scotiabank, met Crowe several years ago and says his story resonated with him.
“Most of us have been involved with directly or closely experienced something very similar to what Kevin has gone through with Ryan,” Seagrim says. “It’s those moments of closeness before someone you care about passes away, or we’ve seen friends or family who wished they could see their loved ones for the last time. We have rallied around this idea of Kevin’s and, our great goal is to make this bigger.”
Crowe says Give A Mile’s “big goal” is to provide 1 billion miles of customer loyalty program points to those in need of visiting with a loved one who is critically ill or dealing with palliative illness. Doners can choose a story on GiveAMile.org’s website that moves someone to donate to a specific person, or they can donate to the general pool using Aeroplan miles, American Express point conversion, Air Cash Miles, or dollar and bitcoin donations.
Most Give A Mile flight requests come from social workers, medical care providers, or hospice care workers, and Crowe says all flights are medically verified and follow a review process. To ensure complete transparency, Give A Mile puts all its financial statements on its website for review.
‘The Entire Week Was The Most Profound, Powerful’
Crowe says a recent letter he received from a woman battling stage 4 cancer “sums up the power of the flight.”
“My son’s and grandson have not been under the same roof with me for 11 years,” the woman wrote. “You made it possible, and the public and their generosity made it possible. Miracles upon miracles occurred in the week that they were here. Gratitude is off the charts; I can’t even begin to tell you physically how awesome I felt well they were here. Cancer did not win, taking over my time with my sons and grandson. Thanks to everybody who donated, it is such a blessing thank you over and over again.”
The woman continued: “We talked about everything. We talked about their future, about legacies; we talked about love. We did a massive amount of reminiscing, and it brought back beautiful memories, and feelings of those memories came to the surface. It was incredible; the entire week was the most profound, powerful, loving week I have ever put in. There are just no words to explain it. This miracle that all these people made happen makes it even better. But the best and most we got enjoyment from was just being together, just sitting at my son Andrew’s place or at my place and just being together. Sitting next to my son, just chatting up instead of having to text message all the time, having my grandson snuggle up to me and just talk. I was able to give him pointers for the future. That’s such a gift. May God bless each and every one of you.”
Visit https://giveamile.org/ or email@example.com if you have a request for a flight.