Inspiration is Everywhere. Here are a few important people I'd like to thank for their inspiration for The SPRiTELEES (in the order that they impacted our work):
Parents of Children with Difficult Health Issues
First and foremost, we are inspired by the loving parents whose children face the diseases we are eager to help. We recognize that their job is beyond huge and overwhelming. They have to tend to the daily needs of their child as well as fundraise to help with scientific breakthroughs and cures.
Why I Care About Pediatric Brain Tumors:
My whole "project" started in 2006 because a dear friend from The College of the Holy Cross learned that her two year old son had a brain tumor. They surgically removed 80% of his tumor, but 20% remained inoperable due to location. My girlfriend's brave little boy endured brain surgery at age two and two full years of chemo. His family helped start the FightPLGA foundation (A Child's Brain Tumor Cure) and this incredible group has raised over $11.5 Million dollars to date towards a cure! My goal has always been to contribute meaningfully to their fundraising mission.
Elizabeth was one of my daughter's best friends. They met in sixth grade. Their birthdays were one day apart. And they shared an amazing bond as friends in the beautiful school community of Montrose School. Elizabeth was diagnosed with a brain tumor when the girls were eighth graders. Elizabeth bravely fought her tumor with grace, humor, and a smile, passing away February 12, 2014. Her parents and incredible siblings, taught all of us in their midst, how to love someone and lose someone with immeasurable grace. Given that this life experience was unfolding in 2013, years had passed since I had actively participated in efforts to raise money for brain tumors with my children's book and clearly my picture book about kindness was not relevant to the girls' middle school age group. However, Elizabeth had to be one of the most SPRiTELEE children I'd ever met, both pre- and post diagnosis. Her zest for life, lively spark, and ready willingness to help others are qualities dearly missed by everyone that loved her. I decided Elizabeth's memory was best honored if I figured out a way to keep going with my fundraising goals for charity. I think often about Elizabeth and her family as I re-engage with this work. Childhood cancer research and brain tumor research are the founding motivators for this series. Afterall, it was aggressive brain cancer that took Elizabeth from this world way too soon, and the world doesn't need to lose any more precious children to this disease.
Why I Care About Type One Diabetes:
When deciding on a charity for the second book, I have another dear friend to mention. Our sons are lifelong friends and her daughter has been Type 1 since the age of four. I've known this wonderful family for ten plus years. On weekly walks together, when her daughter was in elementary school, I can remember my friend pausing our walks to field phone calls from the school nurse. The two women would discuss her daughter's insulin readings and activities, decide on an action plan, and hang up from one another. Multiple conversations with the school nurse was a daily reality and necessity and her young daughter put up with daily blood draws, needles and shots. My own father has Type 2 diabetes which is hard enough, but recognizing the impact of Type 1 on children and their families and caregivers made JDRF a natural choice for my second charity. There are many children in my hometown battling Type 1 as this diagnosis appears to be rising.
Elsa, my mother-in-law, believed in me when I told her about my vision to create children's books for charity. She knew that my girlfriend's son had a brain tumor and that I wanted to find a creative way to help. She offered to be my angel investor allowing me to hire my lifelong best friend to illustrate the first book as well as print, typeset, and publish my hardcover print run. Elsa never expected a penny in return because she knew I wasn't doing this "project" for profit and that any money raised would be donated. I cherish her constant support and encouragement.
Chase's Mom -- Minnesota
I don't want to print Chase's last name but Chase gave me the gift of motivation to keep going with this little project that I had started with my book. After the printed books arrived, I was so busy with book readings, news interviews, school visits, that I was barely home for ten minutes with my own family. Quite honestly, I was trying to figure out exactly what I had started. Chase was ten years old and suffering from a brain tumor and I learned about his situation from his family's blog. In November 2006, Chase's mom posted that Chase was in a hospital bed in their family living room, unable to move his arms and legs because of the pressure of his brain tumor on his brain. She shared that all they could do was read and sing to Chase. I contacted her and asked if I could send her a book to share with her son. She sent me her address. I promptly mailed my Gift that Saved Christmas book (the new edition title for this original book is Bob's Gift).
Fast forward a couple weeks and I am out late one evening dropping my dog off at a kennel. My three children and I were flying down to North Carolina for the weekend. I had been invited to be a guest speaker at a Catholic Church in Chapel Hill for all three weekend masses and to speak to the entire sunday school population. I had no idea if I had anything valuable to say. I was quite petrified. The night before I was to head out, I was in my dark car just outside the kennel when my cell phone rang. I didn't recognize the phone number but was motivated to take the call. It was Chase's mom. She was crying and thanking me for sending the SPRiTELEE Christmas book. She said Chase was wiggling his fingers and legs to hear the book over and over. When I went to North Carolina, I indeed had something to share. Thank you, Chase. Chase passed away two months later from his tumor.
Emma's Mom -- Greater Boston Area
I met another mom whose story touched me beyond measure. I returned from North Carolina with no voice, having talked and read my story for three days straight. However, I had made previous arrangements to speak at a coffee shop in Medfield, MA that Monday morning. The forecast called for heavy snow and I really didn't want to go. The coffee shop called and advised I stay home. However, I couldn't stay home as I vaguely recalled someone I know telling me that they planned to come and see me at the coffee shop. I didn't have the heart to disappoint and yet I didn't remember who mentioned this commitment to me. And so I ventured out into the storm. It turns out, the person that offered to stop by lived across the street from me! She came out to honor her commitment to me just as I went for her, and we could have met in my kitchen and not braved the elements.
I am grateful that I did opt to go to the Medfield shop that morning! As my neighbor left the coffee shop, a woman came up to me pushing a stroller. She said she had driven quite a distance in the storm but needed to find the lady from TV that had written the children's book to raise money for pediatric brain tumors. She proceeded to sit with me and tell me that she came to find me because she needed to buy 8 books from me. She explained that there were people grieving over the loss of her sweet daughter, Emma, and the book was the gift she wanted to give them for Christmas. She then took out a breath-taking photo of a beautiful 5 year old girl in a white dress dancing on a beach. This was Emma. Emma had died from a brain tumor a few months prior and Emma's mom heard my interview on the news. She said Emma had been a SPRiTELEE through and through in personality and that my book was the perfect present for all those dear friends and family that were still reeling from their loss. Thank you Emma's mom for finding me that snowy morning. There are no words to describe what meeting you meant to me.
Ellen Degeneres is truly sprightly and probably one of the ONLY adults I know that allows this admirable quality to shine through. When the first book was written and published, sometime in 2006, Ellen was featured in an American Express Ad and she was asked, "what inspires you?" Her answer was, "kindness". I've been an Ellen fan ever since. So much so, we are hiding Ellen Underwear in all of our picture books (if you are an Ellen fan this makes perfect sense, if not, you should become an Ellen fan immediately). Can you find it? It's a silly way of thanking Ellen for being a perfect role model of sprightliness. I hope she never stops helping people on her show. And I love how much laughter she brings into our world.
Mrs. Karen Morelli Second Grade Teacher at Memorial Elementary in Milford, MA
Karen Morelli has no idea how much she has touched my life because she remained a constant reminder to me that I needed to keep going with my work on the SPRiTELEES. For the few years between the release of the first book to today, she invited me into her classroom and school to address her second graders and various other classes as well. For you see, Mrs. Morelli learned about my book when I was featured on New England Cable News interview in December 2006 and she had incorporated the SPRiTELEES and earning Sparktificates into her second grade curriculum. She would conclude the unit with an Author Visit. Each year, her amazing second graders would present me with gifts they had lovingly handmade -- acts of kindness towards me -- to thank me for sparking kindness. In all honesty, I completed the second book out of an awareness that I didn't want to disappoint Mrs. Morelli the next year! She is an incredible example to me that inspiration comes from many sources, not simply your closest family and friends. Thank you dearly, Mrs. Morelli.
If these stories inspire you in ANY way, the logos here will take you to the charity website so you can donate. Thank you!