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Live boldly. Love big. How Audrey Lou Jandernoa's signature Red Glasses have led others to see with eyes of faith

By Maryalene LaPonsie | Photos courtesy Kate Morrow Photography

Image: Audrey Lou JandernoaSkydivers swooped down onto the field before the West Catholic and Catholic Central football teams faced off last fall. Once safely on the ground, they turned to the crowd and waved, red glasses framing each of their faces.
 
Earlier in the year, a group of Catholic Central High School choir members on a pilgrimage to Italy donned their own red glasses. They smiled for the camera while waiting for the papal Mass to begin in St. Peter's Square.
 
In Tanzania, hikers climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and took selfies at the summit. They, too, were sporting red glasses.
 
Red glasses aren’t the latest fashion trend. All these people – and thousands more around the world – have been participating in the Red Glasses Movement. They are wearing red glasses in memory of a 5-year-old girl, Audrey Lou, who was known for her bright smile, infectious laugh and bold approach to loving everyone.
 
Audrey has left this world, but her family is continuing her work of bringing others together. In their grief, parents Carl and Kelly Jandernoa have leaned on God, and the Grand Rapids Catholic community has surrounded them with love. Against this backdrop, the Red Glasses Movement has grown into something they never could have imagined.  

Gift from God

Kelly says doctors knew immediately that something wasn’t right.
 
“We found out when I was eight weeks pregnant,” she explains. After an abnormal ultrasound, further testing found Audrey could have one of three trisomy conditions, some of which are fatal. Waiting for those results, Kelly says, was agonizing. “Second to losing her, that was probably the hardest point in my life.”
 
Image: The Jandernoa FamilyWhen Audrey was born, however, she was screaming and pink, just like any other newborn. She did have Down syndrome and a heart defect, but they were so happy to finally have her, Kelly remembers. Shortly thereafter, she ended up in the ICU and began a long, although not unexpected, hospitalization and series of surgeries for her heart and airway. Audrey was the third child in the Jandernoa family, coming after brother Tommy and sister Samantha. Meeting the needs of her kids at home while managing Audrey’s medical care was difficult. “Those were pretty trying times,” Kelly notes.
 
Despite seemingly endless obstacles, Audrey took everything in stride. Kelly recalls her sitting in the hospital crib before yet another surgery and simply smiling at everyone. The little girl never stopped surprising her parents either. She needed to use a feeding tube for two and half years before moving to solid foods and then ate an entire pork chop for her first real meal. Throughout this time, Kelly began to appreciate the wonderful gift her family had been given. Prior to Audrey’s birth, she had wondered why this was happening. She asked God why he was doing this. The answer, she says, was because he loved them.
 
“I love you so much that I’m giving you this great child” was the message she received, Kelly says. “It isn’t a punishment. It’s a gift.”  

Superstar personality

Audrey was a gift to more people than just her family. During birthday parties, she would make a beeline to the person sitting alone. On outings to the park, she would help everyone feel included.
 
“She taught us much more than we taught her,” says Suzi Furtwangler, principal of St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic School, where Audrey attended preschool. “She was a superstar on our campus because she held her own no matter who she was with.”
 
Image: Carl, Kelly, Tommy, Samantha and family pet wear the red glasses in memory of AudreyKelly says their family gained as much from St. Thomas the Apostle as the school did from Audrey’s presence: “We never felt like we were in the wrong place.” Children were open and welcoming, and Audrey quickly proved that she was up to the challenge of being in a typical preschool classroom.
 
One particularly poignant moment came during the annual Halloween parade. Audrey, walking slower than her classmates, had fallen behind. As she turned down the middle school hallway alone, the older students erupted into cheers. Audrey walked the hall, giving high fives to everyone along the way. It was a testament not only to Audrey’s star power at the school, but also the unconditional love of everyone in the building for her.
 
“When she left us, every one of us felt the loss of her sparkle,” Principal Furtwangler recalls. 

Birth of a movement

The birth of the Red Glasses Movement came about following the death of Audrey. The little girl who had overcome so much succumbed to sepsis and a bout of RSV. Kelly says her death was unexpected and devastating.
 
However, from day one, Father Jim Chelich was by the family’s side. “She’s a beautiful bright light surrounding you,” Kelly remembers the St. Thomas the Apostle pastor telling her and her husband. At the school, flowers filled the fence where a picture of Audrey was displayed. More than 700 people attended her visitation. The school closed for her funeral.
 
Image: Kelly Jandernoa with MeredithIn the midst of all this, a friend of Carl and Kelly’s had a moment of inspiration. She wanted everyone leaving the funeral to receive a pair of red glasses that would be similar to Audrey’s signature spectacles. This friend, Meredith, was able to find a source for 1,000 glasses within the span of a few days and created business cards explaining their purpose.
 
On the day of the funeral, 970 pairs of red glasses were distributed. Meredith herded the attendees outside and stood on a ladder to explain to everyone that when they wore the glasses, it should be a reminder to live boldly and love big, just like Audrey did.
 
“That’s how it started,” Kelly says. Since then, red glasses have been distributed far and wide. A man in Portugal hands them out to visitors at his winery. At the Catholic Central men’s state championship game, Audrey’s brother Tommy made his way to the sidelines at the Breslin Center to give a pair to head coach Tom Izzo and his players. And Catholic Central High School choir members passed a pair to one of Pope Francis’s personal security guards so they could be given to the pontiff.
 
The growth of the Red Glasses Movement has astounded Kelly and Carl. “Who knows where it’s going to go,” says Kelly, who doesn’t see its success guided by them. Instead, she views Audrey’s spirit in heaven as the driving force behind the movement. “She’s working super hard up there for all of us,” Kelly explains.
 
Continuing Audrey’s legacy through the Red Glasses Movement has brought comfort to the Jandernoa family, but nothing can erase the pain of losing a child. Kelly says the St. Thomas the Apostle church community and her family’s faith have sustained them during this period.
 
She doesn’t know what the future holds for her family or the Red Glasses Movement. However, Kelly does know that whatever may come, her family will meet it by living boldly and loving big. It’s what Audrey would do. It’s what Audrey would want her family to do.
 
JOIN THE RED GLASSES MOVEMENT: REDGLASSESMOVEMENT.ORG