The March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C., brought together students from across the country. It also brought together two cousins for the first time in almost 17 years.
Grace Berlew, of West Pittston, helped organize a group of students from Scranton Prep to make the trip to Washington, D.C., to protest gun violence. At the same time, 300 miles away in Ludlow, Vermont, her cousin, Ryleigh Corrigan, was planning to make the same trip with her Black River High School.
This isn’t the first time fate has brought the two girls together.
It was 2000, and in Vermont, Traci Corrigan was three weeks overdue with her second child, Ryleigh. At the same time, in Pennsylvania, her cousin, Michael Berlew and his wife, Erin Linnen-Berlew, were awaiting the birth of their first child, Grace, who was three weeks early. On the same day, Dec. 11, just a few hours apart, a new generation of cousins was born.
Those cousins are the great-granddaughters of sisters Mary Clifford Golden and Helen Clifford Berlew, who were born and reared in Avoca.
The girls met for the first time at a Clifford family reunion in July 2001, when they were just 6 months old.
While the older generation stayed in touch via social media, Ryleigh and Grace had no recollection of one another. They were acquainted only through pictures on the refrigerator and from birthday and Christmas cards.
Fast-forward to 2018 and the March for Our Lives.
Ryleigh’s and Grace’s moms corresponded by text the day before the rally. Traci said Ryleigh hoped to meet her cousins in person after all these years.
“I was so touched that this incredibly thoughtful young woman wanted to make her way through half a million people to find us,” Erin said
With signs in hand, the two high school juniors made their way to the March for Our Lives rally with their respective schools.
At the march, the sheer number of people descending on the nation’s capital — estimates have the crowd totals at more than 200,000 people, with some claiming as many as 800,000 — made it unlikely the cousins would find each other. The fact that high cell phone usage crashed cell towers made the long-awaited reunion even less likely.
After a slew of text messages were frozen and did not get to the intended receivers, it seemed the cousins might miss their opportunity to meet for the first time as young adults.
“I had felt a little hopeless when I couldn’t find her,” Ryleigh said. I’d been looking all day and was wondering if it was even possible to find them in a sea of almost 1 million people. But I felt this was something I had to do and I wasn’t going to leave until I did.”
Hopeless, that is, until a message from Ryleigh came through to Erin’s phone. She had included a selfie and captioned it: “Not much of a selfie person, but here’s a picture of me.” Erin tried to send their location, but once again, the message would not send until almost an hour later. A significant amount of time had passed by the time Erin received a message from Ryleigh. She was on the move, headed toward Pennsylvania Avenue and Seventh Street — right near where Grace and the other Scranton Prep students were gathered.
As Grace and a crowd of approximately 50 students were standing on a wall, chanting and being photographed, Erin turned around and spotted Ryleigh nearby at the Grand Army of the Republic Statue, searching the vast crowd for her cousins.
Erin ran to Ryleigh. As they hugged, Erin, with tears in her eyes, marveled at exactly how much Ryleigh still looked just like her baby pictures. She then ran to get Grace to join them.
“It was so unreal. I was beyond excited and so incredibly happy. After we parted ways, I still couldn’t believe we had done it,” Ryleigh said.
“Just being at the march itself was incredible and something Ryleigh and I both felt that we had to do,” Grace said, “but add in having the opportunity to reconnect with one another during such a historical and memorable day was simply remarkable. Ryleigh was unstoppable and, truly, her leap of faith that she would find us among 850,000 people, made it happen. I am so grateful that we are connected for ourselves now. There is nothing like family.”