It was Friday, December 14, 2007, and my daughter Katie (then six years of age) and I were walking the holiday aisles of WalMart when I became aware that Katie had stopped some distance behind. As I made my way back to her, I noticed that she was holding a small Teddy Bear – one of the “Care Bear” series. “Find something that you like?” I asked. “Daddy”, she began, “I was walking by, and I noticed these toys, and I got this idea in my head – ‘If I could give one of these [toys] to all the sick children, they’d feel better and they could have a happy Christmas’”. “That’s a big thought,” I replied. “Maybe a little bit too big. Let’s talk about it some more when we get home.” She agreed, and that was that, or at least I thought it was.
Later that evening, Katie discussed her idea with her mother, Elizabeth. She was very supportive of the idea, but she carefully pointed out to Katie that it would be up to her to raise the money. She also cautioned Katie that world-wide was probably not the best place to start. Together Elizabeth and I convinced Katie that it might be better to start with kids close at hand and give the idea an opportunity to grow. Elizabeth suggested starting with the kids at the Levine Children’s Hospital [part of Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, NC] who couldn’t go home for the holidays, and after brief discussion Katie and I agreed. The hospital staff lets as many children go home for the holidays as possible, but even so, there are always many who can’t go home. Those children, the ones too sick to travel, many from out of town or out of state, perhaps from families whose economic resources have been exhausted, and some who might never leave the hospital alive, those children – the ones left behind – would be Katie’s target group.
In three days, Katie raised $162 (including money she’d been saving for almost a year to buy a puppy), and on Wednesday, December 19th, we all went to the hospital where she presented Ms. Deana Williams, the Coordinator of Volunteer Services, two huge Santa bags filled with presents – an event Katie described later as “the best time of my life.”
From my notes of Katie’s project, I wrote a story that I called “Led by a Child”, which was published in “The County Edge” (Union County –Monroe, NC), on December 28th. This resulted in a flurry of phone calls and e-mails from people congratulating Katie for her accomplishment, many expressing their desire to contribute if she should decide to do it again in 2008. We kept all of these contacts, and others we had recently developed, against the possibility that she might really want to do it again, but being familiar with the attention span of a six-year-old, we estimated the chances of that happening at not better than 50:50. But Katie is a special kid, and it didn’t take her very long to convince us that 2007 was only a beginning.