Jennifer Smith knows Christmas will be one of the hardest days for her since her son, Ka’Juan Polley, was struck and killed by a car while riding his bike in July.
Christmas was 15-year-old Polley’s favorite holiday, and to honor his memory and celebrate her newly formed community nonprofit, 3’s for Kay, Smith channeled her son’s giving spirit to help the community of Hempstead on Friday night.
The event at Kennedy Park featured surprise gifts, a free dinner and performances by those who knew Polley.
“A lot of the kids are still feeling the pain of Kay’s passing,” Smith said.
Polley was riding his bike home from a basketball game July 18 on Cameron Avenue in Hempstead when he was struck by an unlicensed driver. He died two days later at Long Island Jewish Medical Center.
Smith had 75 low-income teens who knew Polley, gathered from a Facebook support group, write letters explaining what they wanted for Christmas and what the holiday meant to them.
As a surprise, and with help from a group from Polley’s school, Friends Academy in Locust Valley, and other donors, she was able to purchase the gifts for each child or give them money toward it if it was outside the $50 to $75 price range.
A performance of Donny Hathaway’s classic “This Christmas,” Polley’s favorite, turned into a singalong Friday night, with some attendees tearing up.
Kayla Scott-Tolbert, 16, and Bailey Hughes, 15, were close friends with Polley at Friends Academy. Polley was fun-loving and kind, they said, and they were “like three peas in a pod,” so the pair helped raise money to buy the gifts.
“I miss him dearly and it’s good to celebrate his name,” said Hughes, of Westbury.
Smith was inspired to host the event and launch the nonprofit after Polley’s English teacher gave her a letter her son had written in class, saying he wanted to become successful and then return to help as a community model.
“I decided I wanted to follow his dream,” Smith said.
Smith said the nonprofit received approval for 501(c)(3) status at the end of November. She envisions a community organization that provides a safe space for low-income teens to hang out, and academic and job opportunities.
“I just want to start the foundation to help the kids out the best way we can,” she said.