Friends and family of the late podcast host Mathew George gathered to celebrate the dedication of Operations Breakthrough’s newly-debuted recording studio on what would have been Mathew’s 27th birthday.
“What could have been a really depressing day was more celebratory, like it would have been if he were still here,” shared Mary Ann George, mother of the Liberty High School graduate and nationally known co-host of the “She Rates Dogs: The Podcast.”
More than $30,000 in donations to Operation Breakthrough were raised in Mathew George’s honor after his sudden death; he was killed in a hit-and-run incident July 17, 2021, in Los Angeles. Instead of sending flowers, his mother encouraged the public to donate to Operation Breakthrough or GLSEN in memoriam.
Operation Breakthrough used a portion of the donations in Mathew’s name to build out a new recording studio in the nonprofit’s Ignition Lab. The studio opened this spring.
Remaining donation dollars were put toward the nonprofit’s food pantry.
“When I learned that $30,000 had been raised, it brought me so much joy,” Mary Ann George shared, noting that a large sum came from supporters of Mathew’s podcast and book club, as well as Twitter friends — many of whom he never met in person — along with family and friends. “Those donors are helping Mathew’s light continue to shine and possibly make someone else’s life better by allowing them to learn about something they have an interest in.”
The new Ignition Lab, which opened in September 2021 on Troost Avenue, is the natural next step for students ages 14 to 18 who have aged out of Operation Breakthrough’s Maker City program, with basic skills in coding, circuitry, culinary arts, construction and design, digital media, robotics, visual art and more. It’s also a powerful springboard for teens who live in economically depressed, often violent neighborhoods, according to the Operation Breakthrough website.
Click here to read more about the Ignition Lab, powered by Travis Kelce and his 87 and Running Foundation.
During the May 14 dedication, students who already are using the podcasting equipment and other resources offered at the Ignition Lab shared with Mathew’s friends and family what they have been able to create. From recording their own podcast to fabricating, the Ignition Lab contains a multitude of pathways for students to explore.
“My family and I couldn’t be happier to see Mat’s life being honored at Operation Breakthrough,” said Grace George, Mathew’s younger sister. “Mat would be so happy to know he had a hand in the KC youth being given the opportunity to learn and grow in his honor.”
“If Mat had gone to school here, he would have never come home,” she continued, laughing.
Ian O’Neill, who serves as the multimedia lead at Operation Breakthrough, has watched his students not only gain skills in creating meaningful content, he shared, but also grow as confident individuals.
“Providing a place to truly create has allowed students the opportunities to feel their ideas and stories matter,” O’Neill said. “… By giving students the resources and projects with a professional focus, you can really bridge that opportunity gap and give them a head start in a world that is always looking to share more great stories.”
Students who participate in the Ignition Lab’s Digital Media program — which includes the recording studio — are beginning to fulfill real-world, professional requests, said Mary Esselman, president and CEO of Operation Breakthrough.
“They recently produced a film for Cargill and are doing a short commercial for KMBZ,” Esselman said, noting that other students are set to launch entrepreneurial ventures at the Ignition Lab through an online retail shop, food truck, a next-generation agricultural hydroponic container farm, computer and technology repair shop and more.
The Ignition Lab is available to local high schools De La Salle and Hogan, as well as to students who have been through Operation Breakthrough and now attend various high schools in the Kansas City metro. O’Neill’s hope is that the recording studio serves as a safe space for every student that comes through the lab’s doors, he said.
“I hope that the students feel like the studio is a place of peace,” O’Neill said. “No matter what’s going on in the outside world, this is the place that they can come to express themselves — whether that be through creating a song, recording a podcast with their friends, or trying their creative eye in video.”
As Mathew George’s legacy lives on through the recording studio and the students who use it, Mary Ann George encouraged them to follow their dreams — just as Mathew did in his pursuit to become a comedy writer.
“I think Mathew would also tell them to try to be kind, especially when it’s not easy,” Mary Ann said. “At Mathew’s memorial and in the cards people have sent, they were quick to point out that Mathew was a friend to many. … Whether helping someone through a blue period, being by their side, providing an ear, or just helping them feel comfortable with who they were — I can’t tell you how many people told me how they may have only known him on the computer, but they considered him a friend.”
Click here to read more about Mathew George and his passion for helping LGBTQ+ people across the world feel like they’re not alone.
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.