“The children were nestled all snug in their beds, while visions of sugar plums danced in their heads.” It’s a cozy image, one that most of us take for granted. But for children with grave illnesses, the dreams they have at this time of year may be much more humble than sugar plum fairies: to be home, in their own bedrooms, to be free of tubes and monitors, to run and play on Christmas morning like their healthy peers. Spending Christmas in a hospital is no child’s dream.
That’s why students and staff at Aviara Oaks Middle School are collecting toys to bring to the children at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego. The school in Carlsbad has conducted the annual donation drive for almost ten years, attempting to brighten the spirits of sick children. The effort was started by science teacher Greg Rogo nearly ten years ago after his own young daughter experienced a health scare and went through extensive testing and preliminary treatment there. Rogo recounts, “It was the most devastating and heart wrenching experience of our life, my wife and I, and the staff at Children's were there to make it as easy as a situation like that can be for a parent.” Rogo’s family was fortunate and their daughter’s health was restored, but the impact remained.
Other colleagues of Rogo’s at AOMS have found their loved ones needing the care of the staff at Children’s, so when holiday charity drives were being discussed, it was a natural choice. Fellow science teacher Todd McGinnis pitched in during the first few years, and the tradition continued with teachers Leslie Frazee and Tasha Borders. For them, the tradition is very personal: they spent much time at Rady Children’s Hospital when T.J., Leslie’s son and Tasha’s younger brother, battled bone cancer for several years. For Tasha and her mom, bringing some joy to children with serious illnesses is a way to turn their own loss into something positive. It is also a chance to see and thank, yet again, the nurses and doctors who were so critical to T.J.’s care. Says Tasha of her brother’s care team, “They became our friends and part of our family. We got to know them pretty well over those six years.” Relationships forged through adversity such as a child’s illness make a lasting impression. The gesture of a car-load of brand new gifts is likely to make an impression on the kids, too! Now, these teachers who know how it feels to be that family in crisis work with the school’s Associated Student Body to collect the toys and make the annual pilgrimage to deliver them in loving memory of T.J.
There are restrictions on what can be given to hospitalized kids, due to concerns about germs, as well as appropriate and positively themed toys. Guidelines specify that toys must be new, not used, and not wrapped. (Complete list). Despite the care required, toys are piling up in the teachers’ classrooms at AOMS. In addition to board games, DVDs, dolls, art sets, and coloring books, several Xbox 360 consoles were donated for the common rooms of the hospital. The shiny packaging and enticing distractions within are certain proof of the big hearts and generosity of the Aviara school community.
For more information on how to donate to Rady Children's Hospital, contact the Rady Children's Hospital Foundation.