By Keiko Moral
In the face of adversity, one unwavering teenager’s remarkable spirit and determination continues to inspire countless others. Payton Hardy, a vibrant 15-year-old, bravely fought against glioblastoma, a form of brain cancer, during her battle that began in October 2021. Today, she lives on through Payton’s Legacy, a nonprofit organization committed to uplifting young individuals by fostering programs in arts and education.
When Payton underwent an MRI in late September 2021 at John Hopkins All Children’s Hospital of Tampa Bay, the call back delivered heart-wrenching news to her family: They had found a malignant tumor.
In the face of uncertainty, Payton displayed amazing strength as she prepared for the long journey of treatment ahead. Despite her long battle with sickness, her determination and passion for music and academics continued to shine brightly. Payton’s love for the arts extended beyond music; she pursued dance classes in tap and contemporary at Dance Quest International and became the lighting designer in Armwood High School’s theater department. Academic excellence was also a hallmark of Payton’s life, as she achieved straight A’s and set her sights on graduating in 2024 with an associate degree in arts and her high school diploma.
Tragically, in January 2023, Payton’s journey reached its end. She left her loving family and community grieving the loss of an extraordinary person. However, through Payton’s Legacy, an organization founded by her family — mother Cynde Hardy, sister Hayley Hardy and father Steve Hardy — they honor her memory and carry forward her mission.
Payton’s Legacy empowers youth by enhancing access to arts and education programs. Its heartfelt, deeply personal efforts include donating 399 toy giraffes — Payton’s favorite animal — and bringing comfort to children at local hospitals. Additionally, it established an annual band scholarship, providing aspiring musicians with opportunities to pursue their dreams. The organization aims to assist underprivileged children in affording dance lessons with the aim of inclusivity and artistic expression, as well as the continuation of creative endeavors that Payton cherished, ensuring that her memory lives on even after she is gone. Looking ahead, the nonprofit is excited to announce the purchase of a lighting board for Armwood High and upcoming events, where the community can come together to celebrate Payton and contribute to the organization.
“We always knew Payton was going to change the world, but now we have to keep going in her honor,” said Steve, co-founder of Payton’s Legacy.
To contribute to, support or learn more about Payton’s Legacy, visit its website at www.paytonslegacy.org.