Delivering Hope

As wonderful as it was to be a part of the assembly process of the 7,000 Super Baskets of Hope on Monday, it’s been just as special to help deliver a few of them. Although most of the 7,000 baskets were shipped across the nation to the 32 NFL cities, Indiana got to keep a share of them for some of the hospitals here in our own state. In Fort Wayne, deliveries are being made this week at Lutheran and Parkview hospitals. We’ve personally had the privilege of accompanying some local celebrities as baskets and tote bags were delivered to children admitted to Lutheran Hospital.

We certainly aren’t celebrities or even anybody important, but I do have a nice camera and I’m not afraid to use it and so we tagged along to take pictures of the deliveries. We also took our children on Tuesday evening so that they could be a small part of the process and see what it means to love other people.

Tuesday night the celebrities were Jason Fabini (who played in the NFL, mostly for the NY Jets) and Tory Jackson, who is a current guard on the Mad Ant’s basketball team. We also had the Mad Ant Mascot himself… who has now traumatized our one-year-old for life by standing right next to us in the crowded hospital elevator and daring to give her a high-five. Thankfully after she finally took a breath after her lung piercing scream, Grandma was able to whisk her away to safety! Also thankfully, the other children on the pediatric unit of the hospital reacted in a much more positive manner to Mr. Mad Ant!

Mr. Fabini, Mr. Jackson and our team were able to deliver about 17 baskets and totes on Tuesday evening. It struck me that night that the smiles I saw on the children’s faces were reflected in the faces of the macho athletes. They seemed to be enjoying giving hope just as much as the children enjoyed receiving it. We also noticed the eyes of several fathers light up as they saw athletes they recognized and who gave them a few minutes reprieve from thinking about their suffering child. And as an added bonus, the Moms seemed pleased about receiving a Vera Bradley tote bag and U Designs Hope necklace. Smiles all around.

Thursday evening I charged my camera battery and met the next group for deliveries. This time it was current Pittsburg Steeler, Trai Essex, as well as some women’s basketball players from IPFW. Although we live in “Colt’s Country,” Mr. Essex was still quite the popular guest! First of all, he’s an offensive lineman and he’s sort of hard to miss! Secondly, his smile is as big as his jersey-size and he’s an all around nice guy. The kids, and especially some parents, really enjoyed meeting this guy. I have a feeling if a few Terrible Towels would have been laying around we would have seen some parents waving them enthusiastically… with the giddy nurses right behind them!

It was wonderful seeing those baskets and totes go from huge piles on the assembly floor at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse on Monday to the actual hands of children and parents this week. For me personally, as the Mom of a cancer survivor, I loved seeing those tote bags full of books and a Bible go into the parent’s hands. Although our visit in each room was brief, we were leaving ultimate Hope in the form of God’s Word. To me… that’s the best part of this whole thing!

That, and getting to watch the reactions of joy and hope… and hear the hilarious requests asked of these athletes. Like the Mom Thursday night who chased Mr. Essex down in the hall so that she could get a picture of him for “Uncle Chunky!” I’m still chuckling to myself about that one. It was fun to be a part of bringing a smile and some pictures for boasting to the Uncle Chunkies of this world!

What a week it has been! The full circle has been completed and hope is being delivered. I’m so thankful that I’ve had a front row seat. I’m also thankful that you’ve all been a part of the process by following me on Facebook and reading this blog. Thank you for the comments, prayers and encouragement. This has not been about us. It’s not even been about Tony Dungy, Kurt Warner or a giant Mad Ant. It’s been about bringing hope to families who are hurting. And most of all, it’s been about bringing glory and honor to the God of all Hope! …and Uncle Chunky is even going to get a picture!

NOTE: A 90 second special about Super Baskets of Hope will air as a part of the Super Bowl pre game show this Sunday, February 5th at 1:20 EST. Don’t miss it!

Super Baskets – Super Success!

It is a day that we’ll always remember. It was unique, adrenaline filled, fun, at times chaotic, emotional and most likely…once in a lifetime! It was Super Baskets of Hope Day!

As I wrote about in my previous post (A Full Circle…Woven in a Basket of Hope) our worlds collided yesterday, January 30th, 2012. Over 900 volunteers gathered in Super Bowl host city, Indianapolis, to assemble 7,000 baskets to be delivered to critically ill children across the nation. All 32 NFL cities will be receiving a share of baskets this week before the Giants and Patriots kick off on Sunday night. These baskets, and accompanying Hope Tote Bags for parents, will be delivered by each city’s local athletes and celebrities to kids in their own children’s hospital.

As we stood on the assembly floor at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse we were not only surrounded by mounds of toys, books and goodies to be stuffed into baskets, but by friends from several spheres of our life who were working amidst the rows of tables. It really had come full circle and seeing it with my own eyes felt surreal, and wonderful!

It was a blessing to have about 180 high school students, coaches and parents join us through the ministry in which Kraig serves, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. These kids had to get up early and come from all around the state of Indiana (about 15 schools were represented) to volunteer. They arrived smiling and they kept up that positive energy throughout our entire shift. These FCA groups and their leaders had to work hard even before the event with getting school permission to be absent one day as well as permission slips, buses, sponsors, etc. What an honor and a blessing it was to have FCA staff and volunteers join us for Super Baskets of Hope. Thanks FCA!

We also saw friends who serve on the Riley Foundation Team and who have done an incredible amount of work over the last year to make yesterday a reality. Most of them had arrived at Banker’s Life before 3 am and they were still going strong at 3 pm! They are a dedicated group of people who truly care for children. I can attest that the Riley staff are always thinking of ways to care for and love children. For example, the Riley Family Suite where Karson and I spent a lot of time yesterday was filled with crafts for the children to do, toys for them to take home and at lunch they offered peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (with the crusts cut off!) as well as macaroni and hot dogs. There were even Rice Krispy treats in the shape of a Riley wagon. The kids come first! It seems Riley staff thought of everything and they didn’t just think of it, they made it happen. We are blessed to know these Riley Foundation Staff members and look forward to continuing our service on the NE Indiana Foundation Team. Thank you Riley Foundation for the amazing vision and all of the “elbow grease” that made yesterday come true.

Kraig, Karson and I were given the opportunity to stand on the platform at 10am and to share our Basket of Hope story. Hundreds of people listened as our seven-year-old cancer survivor took a turn at the microphone. Karson did a great job and we are so proud of him for being brave enough to share in such a venue.

Karson took all of the attention in stride and has a childlike innocence to understanding how special the day really was. I had to stifle laughter later in the day at how cute it was when Karson was interviewed on camera for our local television news. He did an excellent job, but it was just minutes after we’d personally met Coach Tony Dungy and had a fairly private audience with him that others would envy. However, when Karson was asked what exciting things he’d been doing he mentioned only the crafts he’d done in the Riley Suite as well as the great snacks! Ha! The reporter had to prompt him several times to help him remember, that oh yeah… we spoke on stage and met famous people too! 🙂 So sweet to hear a child’s perspective.

There was much media attention. Our local news picked up the event as well as the Indianapolis Star (click here to read the article) and even some national news outlets. And, according to Basket of Hope, Coach Dungy has secured a slot on the Super Bowl pre-game show this Sunday, February 5th! Be watching NBC at 1:24 EST to see a 90-second special on Super Baskets of Hope.

Our morning shift which started at 8:00 and ended at noon assembled 4,112 baskets. The afternoon shift finished off the other 2,888. In between shifts they provided boxed lunches and held an inspiration program. Speakers included Pacer President and Riley Board Chairman, Jim Morris, the mayor of Indianapolis, Mr. Greg Ballard, the first lady of Indiana Mrs. Daniels, and more. My personal favorite moment came when Colt’s lineman Gary Brackett was introduced and then spoke. A high school football player who is also a leukemia survivor, Evan Meade, introduced Brackett. Evan shared how when he was hospitalized for months with cancer that Brackett stopped by one day and spent a long time visiting with him and talking life and football. Evan said that Brackett would never know how much he had impacted his life and introduced him as one of the most wonderful men he’d ever met. Brackett then shared a bit and closed by surprising Evan with Super Bowl tickets. The crowd stood and cheered and many of us got choked up. How neat. I don’t think Evan will ever forget yesterday either! The program concluded with some remarks by Coach Dungy. It was very impressive.

All in all, it was a Super Success! 7,000 baskets are now on their way to bring hope to families who are hurting. To us personally, we are so grateful that 7,000 tote bags including a Bible are being offered to the parents. We believe the Bible offers ultimate hope and we are thrilled that Isaiah 55:11 says,

so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

Super Baskets of Hope day was a Super Success. We are grateful to have been a part of bringing hope to sick children and their families. The full circle is complete… and we’ll never forget it!

A Full Circle…Woven In A Basket of Hope.

You’ve heard the phrase “It has come full circle.” It’s the idea that something starts and ends in a similar manner. Well, we’ve had something come full circle in our lives that we’re quite excited about. And this circle is woven in the form of a basket… a Basket of Hope.

The story starts just weeks after our son was diagnosed with cancer. Karson was 2 years old and we’d just been given the devastating news that he had leukemia. His diagnosis came to us as a complete shock and was delivered 5 days after the Indianapolis Colts won the Super Bowl in February, 2007.

Our lives were soon filled with chemotherapy, blood draws and countless trips to Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis. I was consumed with caring for Karson and we were struggling to find the new normal in our lives.

My husband, Kraig, would accompany us to chemo appointments at Riley but he also had the tough task of going back to work. He works for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and was then the Northern Indiana Director. It’s a wonderful ministry and has provided many special opportunities. One of those special and unique opportunities came that winter of 2007. FCA was asked to come to the Colts Complex in Indy and help Coach Tony Dungy open and sort his mail. You see, Coach Dungy and his team had just won the biggest game in football and he was now getting more mail than he could personally go through. The Indiana FCA staff was a trusted group to ask for help with opening, reading and then sorting the mail.

Kraig and the other FCA staff were busy going through mail. There were congratulatory letters, speaking requests, letters of self-recommendation of those who thought they could be playing for the Colts, 🙂 and even the occasional homemade gift!

As the mail was being sorted, Dungy’s assistant, Jackie Cook, came into the room and told the FCA staff about an organization their team was working with called Basket of Hope. She explained that it was an organization started by Kurt Warner when he played for the St. Louis Rams. Warner and Basket of Hope would fill baskets full of toys and goodies for children and personally deliver them to really sick kids in children’s hospitals around their area. They would also deliver tote bags filled with inspirational books, items and even a Bible to the parents. Now the Colts were doing the same and Dungy was hand delivering baskets to children on the cancer floor at Riley hospital.

All eyes turned to Kraig. Jackie was unaware of Karson’s diagnosis. Kraig explained that this obviously hit home to him as a great idea and he told Jackie about Karson’s leukemia and the three year chemotherapy regimen we were facing. Jackie then took Kraig to Coach Dungy who gave Kraig a Basket of Hope to take home to Karson as well as a tote bag for us and an autographed Colts pillow.

The basket of toys was special to Karson. One of the toys included was a Thomas and Friends matching game that we played more times than I care to remember over the coming months! The pillow is a wonderful keepsake and the tote bag included a Scripture card holder and verse cards that sit above my kitchen sink to this day.

During those early days of Karson’s treatment the biggest comfort to me was reading God’s Word. It soothed my soul and held out Truth to me in the midst of so many scary uncertainties. To have received a tote bag from Basket of Hope with a Bible inside spoke volumes to Kraig and I about the type of organization it was. Basket of Hope gives hope in a basket and offers ultimate hope through God’s Word. We were impressed!

We also were impressed with Coach Dungy. He is a man of integrity and faith and so Kraig invited him, just over three years later, to speak at the annual Fellowship of Christian Athletes Banquet in Fort Wayne. Coach Dungy agreed and not only did he fly in for the banquet, but came early that day and went with us to our local Pediatric Oncology Unit where Karson was just about to finish his three plus years of chemo. Dungy visited with the children and families at Lutheran Hospital Kids’ Cancer Clinic that afternoon and allowed Karson to “show him around” the unit to each room. Dungy was patient and kind. He took time with each family and we saw first hand that he put many smiles on faces that day (kids and parents alike!) Again, we were impressed!

Now, here’s the part where it starts to come full circle.

First, Kraig and I were asked to serve as board members on the NE Indiana Riley Hospital Foundation Team. We agreed because the research done at Riley has touched our life first hand. The cure rate for the type of leukemia that Karson has (A.L.L.) has gone from just 4% 30 years ago to an astounding 85% today. And the research at Riley, and other children’s hospitals like it, have made that possible. So yes, we’re in! We joined the team last summer and have enjoyed learning more about Riley and the funds that make it possible.

Now…once again the Colts are involved in the Super Bowl. Ok, I realize they are not playing in it… and we’ll just keep right on moving… to say that the Colts’ city of Indianapolis is hosting the Super Bowl this year…

…Well, the city of Indianapolis, the Riley Children’s Foundation, Former Colts Coach Dungy and Basket of Hope have teamed up for a project called Super Baskets of Hope… I know, amazing, isn’t it?!

The goal is that on January 30th, 900 volunteers will gather at Bankers Life Fieldhouse (formerly Conseco Fieldhouse) to assemble 7,000 baskets and tote bags. These baskets will then be shipped to all 32 NFL cities and delivered by local celebrities to sick kids in that city’s children’s hospital. This will all happen the week before the Super Bowl. Wow.

We are thrilled to be a part of this assembly day. Kraig, through his relationship with Jackie Cook and the Riley Foundation, was given permission to bring 200 FCA students to help assemble the baskets. Kraig is now the Indiana State Director for FCA and so he has 18 Indiana schools sending about 10 kids each to Indy on the 30th (missing a day of school may have been a small incentive!)

We have also been asked to share our story during the assembly. Kraig and I will have the opportunity to stand on that stage with our now 7-year-old healthy boy and give God glory for using Riley Hospital and it’s research in the treatment of our son’s cancer. Our ultimate hope lies in Christ and we’re so thankful that through Super Baskets of Hope 7,000 families will have the opportunity to take a tote bag filled with a Bible. How can you possibly give more hope than that?

I’ve got chills!

We’ll keep you posted of any further media releases or updates. The Super Baskets of Hope website is: http://superbasketsofhope.org/ We also plan to take pictures and video during the assembly day. The following day we’ll be helping to deliver some baskets locally to Lutheran Hospital with a local football coach “celebrity.” It’s going to be a very special week.

A full circle… woven in a Basket of Hope. Only the God of all Hope could have pulled that one off!