Stark gives back through grief



Stark, left, sits on her brother Ryan’s shoulders in 2008 in her first home in Westfield, NJ. She started a foundation in his name after his overdose.

Zoe Conner-Bennett

“It has been said that grief is the final act of love,” says Ryan’s Love of Life Foundation and its co-founder, senior Brooke Stark of Manasquan, “and we’ve chosen to channel our grief into healing.” Stark began Ryan’s Love of Life Foundation in January along with her mother as a tribute to her older brother, Ryan, who died in 2010 after losing his fight with opioid addiction. “Me and my parents’ lives changed completely after he passed away,” Stark said. “I feel like I’m a different person than I would have been if he were still here.” Although the website was launched just a few months ago, the desire to make a bigger difference has gripped Stark’s family for a while; her mother started studying to become a licensed counselor a few years after her son’s passing. “Now she’s actually going for her PhD, so she plans to use the money raised with the foundation to start her wellness center,” Stark said. According to the foundation’s mission statement, the center will provide local “mental health and addiction treatment” as well as “self-help workshops and outreach programs.” As for her role, Stark is heavily involved in fundraising and planning. She recently has been working with other members of the charity to organize Ryan’s Love of Life Foundation Benefit in March, an “80s themed dance complete with a DJ and a raffle.” Though Stark knows that she will always have a job with the foundation, she thinks her future education may take her in a different direction. While she currently plans on studying architecture in college, she shares the same passion for helping others that inspired Ryan’s Love of Life Foundation. “Art therapy has always been a thing for me,” she said. “My parents really just want me to do whatever I want to do, and I think [Ryan] would have wanted me to do the same, so it’s really cool to have that kind of support.” Regardless of the career path that Stark decides to pursue, she is grateful that the foundation has given her the opportunity to honor her brother’s life and legacy. “I just always remember him being such a kind person,” she said. “I know that he would appreciate us doing this because it turned a negative situation into something that is going to be really positive for a lot of people.”