Our Story

We learned firsthand that tragedy doesn’t discriminate when our daughter, River, died at just two days old in September of 2018. Our world came crashing down around us as we found ourselves in the middle of every parent’s worst nightmare: instead of taking River home from the hospital to begin our lives together, we would be faced with the unthinkable task of planning her funeral.

River was a healthy, full-term baby who experienced a statistically rare and unexpected accident during childbirth. This was truly an example of a random accident that nothing could have prepared us for, but would change our lives forever. Throughout it all, we were blown away by the unanticipated support we received from the individuals in our own community. Grieving grandparents and friends stepped in to help plan the funeral. Bosses graciously gave us as much time off as we needed. Friends and neighbors continuously called and brought us food. Strangers came to our home just to sit with us and share their own stories of loss. Doctors made house calls. Friends and family flew in from all over the country to celebrate River’s life in a paddle-out ceremony (seen in the video on the homepage). We simply couldn’t have survived this time without all the support we received from our amazing community—and for this, we are eternally grateful.

Throughout our grieving process, we held tight to the belief that there was a sunrise already out there for us and that we would find it in our own time. Each friend, family and community member who walked with us through our darkness got us one step closer to that sunrise. Our sunrise came in the form of River’s baby brother, Henry, was born just two weeks before The River Ellis Foundation launched in September 2019 in conjunction with River’s 1st birthday. We experienced another sunrise when our daughter, June, was born in 2021 (with a due date of River’s birthday).

River brought with her a powerful message of love and kindness, and we feel that it’s our duty to continue to spread this message in her name. Though her time on earth was short, her impact will be everlasting and her spirit will live on through The River Ellis Foundation. Now it’s time to Give A Sunrise to others in our local community who need it most.

– The Ellis Family

Our Mission

Sh*t happens to good people and hardship doesn’t discriminate. Individuals in our own community are faced with tragedies and unimaginable adversity every single day. We want to be there for those people: the ones who’ve found themselves in the middle of something they couldn’t have prepared for. Those who don’t quite fit into a box, but need some support to get through the adversity they’re facing. From the family who lost everything in a fire, to the dad raising his children alone after the sudden death of his spouse, to the teenager who will now spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair; we’re here to help.

Our mission is to give a sunrise to those who have unexpectedly found themselves in the middle of their darkest hour. Through fundraising events and donations, we provide a varied scope of financial assistance to those in the Hampton Roads community who have encountered an unexpected hardship and need assistance. There is no request too big or small; if we are able to help, we will. We review nomination forms on an ongoing basis and provide immediate support to those we are able to help. Our only request in return is that our recipients give a sunrise to someone else in the community someday in the future.

Make a Donation

Help make a difference in the lives of those in our community who need it the most. Every dollar counts!

Nominate Someone

Do you know someone in the community who have recently faced an unexpected hardship and could use some extra support? Nominate them today!

How You Can Help!


One of the best ways you can support The River Ellis Foundation is by making a donation. We are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and all donations are tax-deductible. We ensure that all of our nominated recipients are carefully screened and all funds go directly toward covering their requested covered expenses.  Follow our blog or join our email list to see stories and learn more about the impact that The River Ellis Foundation has had on the Hampton Roads community!


Nominate Someone

If you know someone who could benefit from The River Ellis Foundation, we want to hear about them! Please visit our Recipient Criteria page to learn more about the requirements of our recipients and complete the Nomination Form.


We have various volunteer opportunities and events for community members to get involved with throughout the year. If you’re interested in becoming a volunteer, please complete the form on the volunteer page and we’ll contact you when we have the perfect opportunity for you.

DIY Fundraising

We’d love for you to come up with creative ways to raise money for The River Ellis Foundation on your own!

Some examples include:

  • Have a garage sale
  • Ask for donations instead of gifts for your birthday each year
  • Run, walk or ride and raise money along the way.
  • Help your children have a lemonade stand
  • Host an event

Get creative! We’d love to hear any ideas you have for DIY Fundraising, and we want to share your story! Contact us and we can get you set up with the tools you’ll need.

Give A Sunrise

Our goal is to inspire acts of kindness all over our community. If you’ve recently performed a random act of kindness, let us know about it! Email us your story or post a picture on social media with the hashtag #GiveASunrise to be featured on our website and social media accounts.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Are donations tax-deductible?

Yes, we are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and all donations are tax-deductible. We will provide you with a tax ID letter after your donation has been made.

How can I be sure my money is going to a worthy cause?

We understand the importance of this issue and take it very seriously. All of our recipients must be nominated by a member of our board, advisory committee, community referral partner or someone affiliated with a person in one of these roles. We take extreme measure to ensure that all of our recipients have been carefully vetted and meet all of the recipient criteria. We also pay bills or cover specific expenses directly rather than give recipients a large sum of money.

Is there a minimum/maximum for the amount of funding that recipients can receive?

We understand that every situation is unique, and there are no limits on how much or how little someone can request for a recipient.

What is the significance of your logo?

The surfboard represents the paddle out ceremony during which River’s ashes were scattered in the water. We continue to hold a paddle out event each September as a way of celebrating River’s birthday and honoring the lives she continues to touch. The sunrise is symbolic of the hope, love, and support that everyone needs after experiencing a tragic event or hardship, which inspired our tagline “give a sunrise.”

I would like to talk to someone about my business becoming a sponsor of The River Ellis Foundation, who should I contact?

We are very interested in partnering with local businesses! Please Contact Rachel Ellis at info@riverellisfoundation.org

Subscribe to our newsletter