Experiential excursion and the power of place

This is a guest post by John Makowiec, a sophomore at New Trier Township High School in Winnetka, Ill.

Last December I started a charity called Cards2Kids. Ever since I visited the local hobby shop, Bleachers, at age five, all I have been interested in is sports cards. I want to allow others, especially those less fortunate, to have the same joy of collecting sports cards. Moreover sports cards are educational as well. They teach math skills and memorization skills through the stats on the back, reading skills through the player info excerpt on the card, and encourage an active lifestyle as kids will strive to be like the person on the card.

We collect sports cards, repackage them into packs then donate the to underprivileged kids. We have collected roughly one million cards over the last year and donated cards to Children’s Hospital in Chicago, Chicago-land Boys and Girls Clubs, One Step at a Time cancer patient camp in Wisconsin, the Hospital for Sick Kids in Toronto, and most recently, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.

Cards2Kids at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin

Cards2Kids at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin.

We visited Children’s in Milwaukee for the Winter Carnival, on Dec. 21. My brother Jay, my stepdad, three of my friends (Ryan, Tristan, and Michael Ulrich… he says hi), one of my friends’ mom and I got in our big black Cadillac and drove to Milwaukee. The drive took an hour and a half, and we passed the time playing travel Scrabble. I won, of course. Anyways, we arrived at the hospital early and set up shop. We had a booth, and set out our 603 packs of cards of every major sport. Among the other booths were: a snow cone booth, a dog petting booth, a DQ blizzard booth, and a Christmas Caroler booth. In fifteen minutes, kids started coming down from their rooms.

Going into this whole experience, I really didn’t expect that much, I didn’t expect it to be a very powerful place. I thought it would be similar to previous donations we have made. We would go in, hand out packs of cards, and would come away feeling good about ourselves. I knew that it would be a powerful place, as most hospitals are, but I had no idea just how powerful it would be.

As the kids started coming down, the hospital smell of hand sanitizer and medicine was amplified. The carolers started singing Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. The sight of them, however, was most stunning. The vast majority of the kids were wearing an IV, and had the IV towers wheeled alongside them. Many were also in wheelchairs, or had visible ailments. I was really humbled by this, and realized how lucky I was to be healthy and have a healthy family. The first kid who came over had an oxygen tube in his nose, he asked for football cards, and we happily obliged. He walked away with a smile on his face; I turned and grinned at my stepdad. The next kid who came was being held by his mom. She told us that he was going home for the first time since he had heart surgery. We asked what kind of cards he wanted, but he was kind of shy so his mom relayed the question. He whispered in her ear that he wanted baseball cards. He held the cards close to him as they walked away.

It had only been seven minutes, and I was already blown away by the seriousness of their conditions. Why did the three year old boy deserve heart surgery? It’s not fair. More and more kids came with stunning ailments. A five year old boy with huge scars on his head asked for football cards. A twelve year old girl in a hospital gown quietly asked for basketball cards. One of the most touching, however, was a little Indian boy, who couldn’t have been taller than 3 foot 6, who I thought was four years old. He was riding in a small cart, and was absolutely beaming when we gave him a pack of football cards. His mom took a picture of him with Ryan and Michael. Later I found out that he was nine year old, but had a severe case of dwarfism. Tristan and Jay decided to go by Santa and hand out cards to kids there. Michael, Ryan and I stayed and handed out cards to kids at our booth.

Despite all of this, the saddest part was when some parents or hospital assistants came down and asked if they could have cards to take up to kids who weren’t well enough to come down. I thought it was funny when one mom asked me if I had any of “us?” She was referring to the Green Bay Packers, so I gave her a pack with a Packers player to take to her son. I was sad to hear that these kids were in such bad condition, but I was glad that they were getting better with the help of the doctors, and hopefully our cards.

At two o’clock, the carnival ended. We packed our remaining cards and left 110 packs at the hospital for them to use in their prize box. On the way home we were much quieter, I think we were humbled by the trip. Near the end of the ride each of us shared the story that most touched us. My brother told us about a boy with a severe brain condition, Ryan talked about the boy with scars on his head, Michael talked about a girl with five IV’s hooked up to her, Ryan talked about the boy who had heart surgery. I was most impressed by the resiliency of these kids. They have been knocked down with their disorders, yet they continue to get back up and fight.

In all, this experience was very different from what I had expected. I had no idea that the kids would be in such tough conditions. It made me feel that much better that I was helping them to have a better day. This experience validated the whole Cards2Kids project. When I started Cards2Kids, these are the very kids that I wanted to help.

I would definitely recommend the Cards2Kids project to others. First of all, I have had tons of fun with it. The charity aspect of it had made me and everyone involved in Cards2Kids feel good about ourselves. Even more importantly though, giving the cards to the kids made them happy. This experience turned, an ordinary hospital for me, to a very powerful place. I will remember this for the rest of my life.

My experience at Children’s in Milwaukee ranks number one on my list of things that had made me feel good in my life. This was a fantastic event that really changed my perspective. It opened my eyes to the fact that I worry about my next test, and they worry their next day. I will remember this forever, and I hope I have the opportunity to help them again in the future.

John Makowiec~ John Makowiec, guest blogger

John Makowiec, a sophomore at New Trier Township High School in Winnetka, Ill., created Cards2Kids, a charitable organization that collects new and used sports cards to share with kids being served by various children’s charities.

Comments

Experiential excursion and the power of place — 1 Comment

  1. John, you, your friends and family are amazing. Thanks for all you do. Thanks for visiting the kids here at Children’s Hopsital of Wisconsin!