BrAva backpacks for sick kids

UNNEL – “What do we want? A cure for cancer! When do we want it? Now!”

The cheer rang out Thursday from more than 50 Warren Elementary sixth-grade students who spent the morning filling drawstring backpacks with toys and games that will be given to childhood cancer patients to take with them to their treatments.

After months of raising money, gathering items and learning more about childhood cancer, the 52 sixth graders gathered Thursday in the gym to put together the activity kits.

“I’m filling up a bag for a boy, so I’ve got a toy car, an Angry Birds coloring book, a little fish ring, a Spider-Man puzzle and a dry erase board,” said 12-year-old Noah Smith.

Other students filled bags with little girl items, such as necklaces, stuffed animals and Hello Kitty items.

The students reached out to local organization BrAva, which aims to help local families dealing with issues surrounding a child with cancer.

“This was all their idea. They came to me and asked if they could use the BrAva name on this project,” said Desni Crock, whose 6-year-old daughter Bridget Crock, is a cancer survivor and the “Br” in BrAva.

The other half of BrAva, 6-year-old Ava Nichols, lost her battle to cancer in March 2012.

To help the sixth-graders get a better idea of what children with cancer might like in an activity bag, Desni took Bridget to the school so the students could talk to her.

“They asked her a lot of questions and really got to know her,” said Desni.

The initial motivation behind the project was to find a way to honor the memory of the victims of the December Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and do something that would at the same time help the community, explained sixth grade teacher Tracey Huck.

As the students chose from dozens of toys to put in their bags, they carried a laminated bookmark with the photo of a Sandy Hook victim and a brief synopsis of what he or she liked.

“I chose to do a bag in memory of Olivia Engel because she reminds me of a friend I have in a younger grade,” said 12-year-old Faith Burns, who was putting a stuffed animal into her bag.

The students filled 52 bags Thursday and will continue until they have filled 100, said Huck.

Many of those will be taken to children’s hospitals in Columbus, Akron and Morgantown, said Ava’s mother, Traci Nichols.

“What I like about the project is it is going to kids who can’t really move around a lot because they are getting injections or things. So these bags are a few things that they can have right there in front of them,” said Kyra Flanagan, 12.

The families of each Sandy Hook victim will also receive a bag dedicated to their loved-ones, said Huck.

However, the first two bags will be given to two young men right here in Washington County who are fighting cancer.

Next week, Warren High School senior Matt Hill will come to Warren Elementary to receive his bag from the sixth-graders. Hill was diagnosed with bone cancer in his ankle and is scheduled to undergo an amputation, said Huck.

The other bag will go to the family of 4-year-old Taryn Jorvig, who was diagnosed with bone marrow cancer and neuroblastoma Feb. 26 and is currently undergoing chemotherapy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, said Nichols.

The project has been an inspiring experience, said Huck.

“The PTA just gave us $50 to do whatever we wanted with and we could have taken that money and had a pizza party, but we took it and made a difference,” she said.

In addition, students raised more than $1,000 in donations, she said.

With any luck, the project will become a yearly occurrence and might even expand, said Nichols.

“They just told me they want to do this in seventh and eighth grade as well and hopefully the sixth grade classes can keep doing it too,” she said.