Peter Cook looked up to his younger brother, Andrew, calling him his hero and his role model and admiring his gift of touching lives.
When Andrew drowned while on vacation in 2017 at the age of 39, Peter Cook knew he had to carry out his brother’s legacy of helping people in need.
“He lived such a selfless life, … he lived such a life of service,” Cook said. “He was a teacher, showing love, teaching compassion, giving hope.”
Cook, a Winter Garden resident, was inspired by his brother to start a nonprofit called Largest Heart. It focuses on three questions: Does it inspire? Does it show them love? Does it provide them with knowledge and empowerment for a better future?
He has launched Largest Heart, which aims to help identify the country’s most pressing needs, identify the nonprofits doing the best work in that field. Largest Heart then provides funds to those organizations, which will, in turn share their knowledge with the nonprofit community.
Largest Heart is based on the notion that the wisdom of the crowd prevails, that the collective wisdom shapes society and that people coming together can make a difference in the lives of others.
“Together we’re better,” Cook said. “Together our light shines. … It’s like the idea of the logo. It’s a million hearts put together to make one big heart.”
The founder is fond of two quotes: Mahatma Gandhi’s “Be the change you wish to see in the world” and rapper Tupac’s “Let's change the way we eat, let's change the way we live, and let's change the way we treat each other; you see the old way wasn't working so it's on us to do what we gotta do to survive.”
IT’S OK TO NOT BE OK
The biggest topics headlining the news today, Cook said, include addiction, suicide and cancer.
“Those are the … things that no matter who you talk to, they’ve been affected by it in some way,” he said. “We talk about cancer all the time. We don’t talk about addiction, we don’t talk about suicide. It’s astounding that (suicide) isn’t talked about unless it’s a star, like … Kate Spade or Anthony Bourdain. We’re losing people at record pace, and it’s getting worse.”
People need to start talking about these issues, their issues, and to seek help, he said.
“I believe there are several reasons we don’t talk about it,” Cook said. “1. It’s uncomfortable. 2. People don’t know what to say. If your kid overdoses, or if your kid goes to treatment … same thing with mental illness. It’s OK to not be OK. … We don’t talk about how many kids in high school and middle school are suffering from a mental illness. It’s OK to not be OK.”
He promotes an Apple and Google Play app called notOK. It was created by two teenage siblings and allows users a way to quickly send a text message to up to five pre-selected contacts to let them know they aren’t OK and need to talk.
Cook’s website, LargestHeart.org, offers a list of resources for issues such as or associated with mental health, substance abuse, suicide and LGBTQ youth.
RAISING THE FUNDS
Cook plans to hold quarterly community events, the first of which is a 5K run/walk in Winter Garden in September. He wants to hold a comedy night.
He came up with another way of raising funds when he came down with the flu after traveling in an airplane. He created Plane it Safe, a healthy and wellness company, which has launched the TSA-compliant travel safety kit called Refreshed Traveler. All proceeds benefit Largest Heart.
In addition to helping fund nonprofits, the money raised will be used as scholarships to send qualified students to mental health counseling. Cook has hired Jill Haire to partner with the Largest Heart Foundation as an addiction and mental health expert.
MAKING AN IMPACT
A second death — Cook’s childhood best friend, Patrick McGarry, who died of brain cancer in 2011 at age 36 — had an effect on him, as well.
“It was incredible having two such admirable men of character to aspire to live like, men who believed if you made a difference in this moment you could change the world,” Cook said. “I carry them wherever I go.
“Andrew taught me to always carry blessings because you never know whose life you’re going to touch and the boomerang effect it might just have on your own,” Cook said. “The last time I saw him, he gave me the shirt off his back. I said, ‘Man, I like your shirt.’ He gave it to me. Who gets a last moment like that?”
Community Editor Amy Quesinberry was born at the old West Orange Memorial Hospital and raised in Winter Garden. Aside from earning her journalism degree from the University of Georgia, she hasn’t strayed too far from her hometown and her three-mile bubble. She grew up reading The Winter Garden Times and knew in the eighth grade she wanted to write for her community newspaper. She has been part of the writing and editing team since 1990.