Though her eyes often brimmed with tears, Junie Eimiller’s voice remained strong and steady as she spoke about her son, Bannon, and his compassion for others.
“He had such a huge heart and an incredible way of connecting with people, regardless of their backgrounds,” Junie said.
One of those people was Seth Murray, his godmother’s teenaged son with special needs. For several years, Bannon tutored Murray in math and often served as a mentor for the teen as they shared stories, told jokes and played games.
On May 9, Bannon was killed while riding his skateboard along Route 430 in the Town of Ellery.
Since then, Junie has been determined to find a way to honor Bannon’s legacy and give back to the community he grew up in.
Be Strong 716
While a student at Jamestown High School, Bannon and a friend created an Instagram account to showcase their passion for weightlifting and strength training. Over the years, Be Strong 716 gained thousands of followers from around the country and led to opportunities for the teens to meet with professional photographers and spokespersons related to the fitness world. Throughout college, they created content and shared their fitness journey, up until Bannon’s accident.
“Bannon created the Be Strong 716 brand,” Junie said. “Now we’re just using it in a different way to channel our pain into a purpose and to take this tragedy and transform it into something positive.”
By turning Be Strong 716 into B.E. Strong 716, Junie hopes to honor Bannon’s legacy by incorporating his initials into a charitable endeavor to benefit the entire 716 community.
“After his passing, we received money from friends and family to do something charitable,” she said. “We talked about it and thought that these dollars would be a better representation of his strengths and qualities if we partnered with organizations and causes that Bannon would have found joy in giving back to.”
One of which will be the local Salvation Army. Along with ringing the bell as part of the Red Kettle Campaign at local businesses every year, Bannon and his mom would take a tag off one of the Christmas Angel Trees around town to purchase Christmas presents for a local child.
Some of her short term goals of her fundraising efforts include supporting families and individuals with special needs, as well as, finding a way to incorporate Bannon’s memory into the construction of a local skate park.
Another way she intends to support the local skateboarding community is to raise awareness on the importance of skateboarding safety and driver awareness.
“Bannon always skateboarded everywhere he went,” Junie explained. “People are unaware of how dangerous it can be for skateboarders to share the road. Not until his accident did I realize how many horrific injuries there are involving skateboards.”
A 2020 report by The Consumer Product Safety Commission determines that of the 2.7 million sports and recreational injuries resulting in emergency department visits, more than 217,000 were related to skateboards, scooters and hover boards.
A Permanent Legacy
In addition to creating B.E. Strong 716, Junie recently established The B.E. Strong 716 Fund at the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation as a way to permanently cement Bannon’s legacy in the community.
“There are so many things we hope to do in the future in Bannon’s memory and the Community Foundation gives our efforts credibility,” she explained.
To kick-off their efforts, an authentic Italian Dinner Fundraiser will be hosted at the Elks Lodge on November 20 from 4:45-8 p.m. Proceeds will benefit B.E. Strong 716 as they work with the Salvation Army to purchase Christmas gifts for local children as part of the Angel Tree program in Bannon’s memory.
“Last December, Bannon and I picked a tag off of a tree at the Tops on Washington Street for an eight-year-old boy who wanted a skateboard,” she explained. “Bannon went on Amazon, found the perfect skateboard and we purchased it, along with a helmet and some other safety gear. I think this will be a great way to honor him this year and our annual tradition we had every December.”
Tickets for the dinner are $20 per person and must be purchased by November 14. For more information on the dinner, including a menu, search for B.E. Strong 716 on Facebook.
A percentage of the dinner proceeds will also be placed into the permanent fund at the Community Foundation.