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After losing uncle to MS, Livonia woman made it her mission to help others in his honor

'Every time Sami does any one of her kindness projects, it touches our soul, it brings Denny back to us.'
Posted at 11:50 AM, Jan 17, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-17 17:57:05-05

(WXYZ) — A local woman who was inspired to give to others is now inspiring others to give.

"The ripple effect is what I like to call it, because you toss that stone in the water and it just ripples and it keeps on going," said Katie O'Neill.

And the stone in this story is Katie's brother, Denny O'Neill, a beloved son, brother and loving uncle — just ask his niece Sami McKay.

"He was so positive despite any of his physical struggles, and he was always finding ways to give back," said Sami. "He lived with muscular dystrophy, and he was always finding ways to give back to people. He worked as a lawyer in Detroit, and he would always hire people on the streets to help him with some paperwork that he couldn't do because of his disability. And he would also do pro-bono work for teens that were in trouble."

Those are few stories in a novel of good deeds the family could write when it came to Denny.

"He just showed me like that the compassion is what matters, you know, not just helping them or giving them money, but like talking to them, making them feel loved and heard — and so that really stuck out to me," said Sami.

Sami said Denny developed multiple sclerosis and then ended up passing away in 2008.

"He was just so special. And so when we lost him, that was that was really hard, and we all felt that," said Sami.

But that giving light feared gone, actually grew brighter — largely in part to Sami.

It started as random acts of kindness and grew, until 2018 when Sami wanted to do something bigger.

"The 'DO' is how it all started, because his initials are D.O., Denny O'Neill. And so I was like, well, I can't do 'Just Do It,' because that's Nike. But we came up with D.O. it for Denny," laughed Sami.

She created a D.O. it for Denny facebook page, and volunteers came from near and far.

"I was downtown at Children's Hospital doing a different fundraiser, and she was down there doing crafts with the kids. And I said to somebody, 'who is that? I need to find out who that is,'" said Jane Bridge, a volunteer with D.O. it for Denny.

Sami started to organize givebacks — one is handing out blessing bags to the homeless in January, the month of Denny’s birthday.

"This year, we're doing 60 in honor of what would be his 60th birthday," said Sami.

One of her biggest Denny projects is what she calls the Toy Shop, which was born out of family adoptions around the holidays.

"We worked with four local schools who invited families to come and they can verify the need, give it to the people who genuinely need it. And they came in and they were able to shop for themselves. They got four gifts per child in the family and we had a wrapping station," said Sami.

Jane, who helped at the event, remembers how grateful people were to be able to shop for their kids.

"One man only wanted one toy. He wanted a football for his little boy, and that's all he took. And he said, 'keep the rest for the rest of the people.' So these people were so grateful for what she did, and I'll never forget that," said Jane.

Sami's goal this year is to be able to offer 3,000 toys, and like an elf in Santa’s workshop — she’s already started to prep.

It’s just one of those kindness ripples she’s now creating, doing it for everyone, doing it for Denny.

"Every time Sami does any one of her kindness projects, it touches our soul, it brings Denny back to us," said Katie.

Sami said she's looking for a place to hold her Toy Shop this year in Redford or Westland. If you'd like to find out a way to help, head to her Facebook page here.