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AMERICAN FORK — A Utah County man is using what he learned from a simple act of kindness when his wife was suffering from a terminal illness and starting a new business that aims to help others pull through hard times with a little bit of sunshine.
He does this through "sunshine baskets."
Jason Clawson said a friend gave his family a sunshine basket a few years ago when his wife, Valerie, was fighting cancer. That basket — filled with happy, yellow items — led to a rare happy memory during a time period that had been dominated by sad and hard memories.
"I remember in that moment where my boys were happy, they were playing together, they were just having fun together, and my wife was laughing as well. And that meant a lot to us," Clawson said.
At that point in his life, Clawson said he had forgotten what happiness looked like. He said they needed someone else outside of their family to help them find happiness by reaching out with the basket.
After his wife died, Clawson said he struggled through life for months. He went back to work but did not have the needed energy or motivation. Eventually, he called some friends and family over for an intervention to help him figure out how he could find happiness again. He called the group his "healing team" or "grieving team," and says they helped him make the decision to take the summer off from work and focus on making good memories with his boys.
Wyatt Ernst, one of Clawson's neighbors, said that many of his family members said they had wanted to give him advice but didn't know how until Clawson opened the door to initiate the conversation.
"One of the most fascinating things, from my perspective, is a lot of the outside support kind of sees what's going on and kind of knows what needs to happen. But, there's a hesitancy because they don't know if it's gonna make things worse or not," Ernst said.
Clawson said that through this process he realized the thing he had been missing was connection with others. So, his team helped him design activities that would help his family interact with new people and one another.
One of Clawson's to-do items for the summer was running a lemonade stand to raise money to make a few sunshine baskets to deliver to others who were in need. The goal was to raise $100 to make two baskets; they ended up raising $1,500.
Clawson said he was blown away by the response. He reached out to his church's Young Women's group, and they helped him build 25 sunshine baskets that they delivered to people suggested to them through Facebook comments and messages. Clawson and his boys helped deliver the baskets, which meant they connected with more people and brought connections to others who were struggling.
"What I learned is the opposite of grieving, depression (or) addiction is connection," Clawson said.
Through the baskets, he has been able to find even more connections. He delivered a basket to the first home that he and Valerie lived in together after someone else had reached out telling them a girl in the family that lived there had cancer. He connected with his parents after his mom was diagnosed with cancer by bringing them a basket.
Clawson said delivering the sunshine baskets has been a benefit to his boys, who were 5 and 11 when their mother died, by helping them through their grief. He said as building the baskets became part of their way of life, he and his boys would often notice yellow items in the store. Doing so turned thinking about their pain and grief into thinking about how they could help others.
"It's been part of our healing. It's been a part of our journey. It's been part of helping people, and it just continues to grow to where it is today," Clawson said.
After designing a box version that could be shipped and using networking through social media to find out about people who could benefit from a sunshine basket, Clawson has sent baskets to 21 of the 50 states, Eventually, he hopes to get at least one box to all 50 states.
'Giving Sunshine' is a full-time job
In January, Clawson helped facilitate a project at a conference for widows and widowers where the group pulled together 50 baskets and boxes, which will be hand-delivered or sent throughout the United States.
The effort started as a small service project designed to help a few others, and it is continuing to grow.
Clawson, with encouragement and help from Ernst, quit his job to spend more time sharing happiness through a business he named Giving Sunshine. The company plans to create different types of sunshine baskets tailored to help those who are grieving the loss of a family member, dealing with cancer, or have mental health issues. They plan to add other boxes as well.
Ernst previously owned an online marketing business and has been instrumental in getting the business side of Giving Sunshine going. Clawson is a licensed therapist and is using skills from his profession to make the product his business is going to offer even more valuable.
Ernst said that he has consistently found himself in a support role, helping siblings, friends and neighbors who have challenges, so he focuses on how to help people who are in supporting roles.
Through his experience helping Clawson through grief, Ernst said he learned to not stop sending text messages even when he wasn't getting responses and to present solutions or statements instead of asking questions; the latter, he said, is a way to help without giving an additional chore. Things to help teach how to support others will be included in the sunshine baskets or boxes that Giving Sunshine produces.
Ernst said sunshine baskets given by Clawson and his family previously were designed to show that someone was thinking of you and provide some happiness for a day or a week, but the newer products are designed to have a lasting impact and provide items to bring long-term happiness through information and daily affirmations.
Some boxes will include conversation cards that people can give to their friends and family to help facilitate conversations that may otherwise be hard to have. The baskets will also include books to help bring up topics that are hard to talk about, including children's books to read when a parent has cancer.
Clawson said that there aren't many tools available to help people who have lost someone to cancer or a terminal illness, and he's hoping to fill that need for as many people as he can. He is hoping to be able to get people and funds to support the business so that they can make more specialized boxes for different circumstances when people need something to bring them joy or connection.
They anticipate the boxes will be available in March with the launch of a Kickstarter.
In addition to the baskets or boxes, Giving Sunshine has an Instagram page to help bring happiness to people. The company is also producing a podcast, and they livestream a "sunshine workout" every day to motivate people to exercise.