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Article updated: 9/24/2013 5:01 AM

Philanthropist urges Bartlett students to make, keep promises

By Jessica Cilella

Alex Sheen says his father had a superhero power: He always kept his promises.

That quality is something the Ohio native wishes more people had. In honor of his father, who died from lung cancer in September 2012, Sheen created a nonprofit called Because I Said I Would that focuses on the importance of making and keeping promises.

On Monday, Sheen shared his message with hundreds of kindergarten through sixth-grade students at Sycamore Trails School in Bartlett.

"I miss him a lot but I wanted to remember him ... by the promises he made to me, by the promises he kept," Sheen said of his father.

"There's something about a promise we can all understand."

Sheen shared with the students some of the promises he has made, and fulfilled, in the past year, including purchasing more than $2,000 in supplies for Hurricane Sandy victims, delivering Disneyland tickets to kids with cancer and walking across the state of Ohio to raise money and awareness for victims of sexual abuse.

After the assemblies, each student received a stack of 10 small, white cards that have "Because I Said I Would" printed on the bottom. They were encouraged to write their promises on the cards and give them to the people they will affect. Once the promise is fulfilled, that person is asked to give the card back to the student.

Sheen said there are studies that show when people write their goals down attainment rates go up drastically.

"There's something there," he said, adding that he has heard from people who set very serious promises to themselves, like beating an addiction, and keep the card with them at all times as encouragement.

Because I Said I Would started with a few of the blank cards getting mailed out to people who requested them on a Facebook page created by Sheen.

He said his idea spread quickly across social media and in just one year he has mailed out more than 125,000 cards and received hundreds of pictures of people in more than 50 countries showing off their cards and the promises they've kept.

The organization has received an overwhelming amount of attention recently after posting a video of a 22-year-old man admitting he killed a man while driving drunk in June.

"The guilt was just weighing on him in a heavy, heavy way," Sheen said, adding that the man has since pleaded guilty in court.

"He messaged me and said, 'I want to join you in helping people out and making promises ... I want to live a good life of two people because of what I've done.'"

The assembly was organized by Kathy Mentink, a fifth- and sixth-grade teacher who saw Sheen on television over the summer.

She researched his organization and decided he had a great message that would resonate with her students. "We talk about objectives and goals and we never know if (the students) really mean it when they say they're going to do something," she said.

"So we figured this is a good way for them to make a promise for something school-related and actually follow through with it."

While some of the goals set by students were academic, such as getting a good grade on an upcoming test, many thought of short- and long-term promises outside of school, from spending more time with family to working to become an Eagle Scout by age 18.

"I think they were very attentive and really listened well," Mentink said. "I think social causes are always good for kids to think beyond themselves, what they could do to help make the world a better place."

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