SCOTTSDALE — Kids can still hope in the future, even if a life-threatening illness makes that future uncertain at best. Just ask Joel.
The 2-year-old from Holland was in an Arizona hospital Nov. 8 for treatment. He faces stage 4 neuroblastoma and the treatment success rate is not as strong back home.
Two days later, Joel still had a tube in his nose. That didn’t stop him from smiling big during a pony ride at the third annual “HopeKids Day,” a carnival-like event hosted by Notre Dame Preparatory students for all families registered with HopeKids Arizona.
More than 700 people, including student government volunteers and Notre Dame’s principal, swarmed campus for the afternoon festival Nov. 10. The Saints’ school became a playground filled with bouncy houses, games, crafts, rock climbing plus a coloring station and train rides.
Kids could stroll down the Fashion Club’s runway and interact with costumed characters.
“This year Cinderella gave her crown to all three of my lil’ Princesses. This is a day the girls will talk about for months,” Lorena Cross wrote on HopeKids Arizona’s Facebook page.
Notre Dame students help coordinate the annual event to allow children with life-threatening illnesses and their families restore fun, excitement and hope in their lives. HopeKids Arizona currently serves 880 families.
Stephanie Surratt, whose 11-year-old was diagnosed with a recessive developmental brain disorder by age 1, praised Notre Dame students on Facebook. She described them as polite, helpful and “amazing with the kids.”
Notre Dame’s Saints equally enjoyed the bonding experience.
“I’ve never seen so much hope in my life. The joy on the kids’ faces was moving. It was truly a blessing to have made such an impact in the life of these kids. Their smiles when I gave the kids cotton candy were electric,” said Jhett Steimel, a junior at Notre Dame.
Another said the reaction he got while in his Batman costume was worth far more than the service hours he earned at the event. Students also learned to be thankful for the smaller things in life.
“When you are around children who are sick and who have special needs, it teaches us all the lesson to be thankful for the gift of today and all that we are blessed with, including our health,” said Bridget Asheim, executive director for HopeKids in Arizona. “For our families, this day signifies hope and a day filled with many life-long memories. Our families may not know what tomorrow may bring in regards to treatment for their child, but for that one day, they can have fun, laugh, smile and hope.”
It’s family time that might be equally as vital as their treatment. A spokesperson at Notre Dame said the family photo taken during HopeKids Day last year was the final one they had together. That family’s daughter passed away shortly thereafter.
Event photos from Notre Dame Preparatory