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Check out Gio's new room!

The Greenwich Art from the Heart (AFTH) team spent Memorial Day Weekend transforming the room of Giovanni Toribio, a six-year-old cancer survivor, into his personal fantasyland. Art from the Heart is a room makeover program run by Circle of Care, an organization whose mission is to provide direct practical, emotional and financial support to children with cancer and their families in Connecticut. Circle of Care’s Art from the Heart teams have transformed more than 100 rooms over the past 10 years, providing children and families facing cancer with a much-needed distraction and something to look forward to during difficult treatments. The AFTH room makeovers are organized by volunteers who donate their time to create thoughtfully-designed spaces that delight the children and their families.

Giovanni was diagnosed in Spring 2016 with Stage 3 Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma. The once-vibrant sports fanatic endured many rounds of debilitating chemotherapy. His family was devastated when they learned of a second diagnosis of unrelated McCune Albright disease, a rare and complex genetic disorder affecting the bone, skin and endocrine system.

The Greenwich AFTH team heard about Gio and the need for more surgeries and treatment, and they decided to get to work on a room makeover. Cancer treatment is emotionally and physically draining, particularly for children who have to endure long hospital stays and extended periods of time at home, away from school and friends. A room makeover allows kids like Gio to have something to look forward to, and participate in, during such a challenging time.
The team, run by Amy Lesser Courage and Missy Brennan of Riverside, CT, includes eight sophomores from Greenwich High School, all committing many volunteer hours to improving the home experience for pediatric cancer patients throughout Westchester and Fairfield County.
The students hosted bake sales throughout the year and began Flamingo Flocking in the spring (have you been flocked?) to raise the funds necessary for the transformation. They then met with Gio, his parents Lauren and Juan and his two younger brothers to talk about his dream makeover. Interacting with the AFTH teens throughout the room makeover project is a tremendous healing opportunity for kids like Gio, and an inspirational experience for the volunteers.
Armed with Gio’s special momentos, photographs and favorite color, the team, assisted by Amy (an interior designer), Missy and Missy’s husband, Scott Campbell, painted the walls and trim, installed an area rug, display shelves and light fixture, assembled a new bed, desk, night table and butterfly chair and even mounted a TV donated by Eshon Shafie, a generous Stamford man with no prior affiliation with AFTH. Everyone wanted to help Gio.

The room makeover was complete after a rewarding and inspiring two days, and the team was thrilled to see Gio’s smile when the room was revealed.

Circle of Care was featured recently in the Wilton Bulletin -- an amazing article explaining our impact.

We're getting ready to launch registration for our Circle of Care Care to Run 5K! Get ready to run, walk, or hop in a lemon suit and motivate the runners. However you see fit, we'll see you at the starting line for our Care to Run 5K!

Julianna Wong, Former Intern, Reflects on her Experiences

What made you pick Circle of Care for your internship?

I picked to intern with Circle of Care because for the past few years I have been volunteering for the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life. I really enjoy being able to use my time to help such a deserving cause. I have always had an interest in social work and non-profits; it is definitely an area I would like to explore in college next year. I have always thrived when I can help others and I would love to be able to that for a living one day.

Was there anything surprising you discovered about yourself, the group, or the organization from your internship?
In my opinion this internship experience has exceeded my expectations. I have learned how much goes into a non-profit organization. I have sat in on many meetings and conference calls during my time here, and I observed Circle of Care’s various committees working towards their single goal of making these families' lives easier or better in any way possible. This internship allowed me to see first-hand how a non-profit functions and will hopefully be beneficial to my discovery of a possible career path.

What did you enjoy working on the most? The least?
I have really enjoyed working on the Life within the Journey project. I attended the exhibit at the Wilton Library and fell in love with message behind it. These kids are still kids with spirit and wonderful personalities, and being able to see that captured in writing and photographs is unbelievable.
Throughout my time hear I have done a lot of data entry into Neon. Although it was tedious and annoying at times, I’m glad I was able to help make it easier for the Circle of Care staff to do their job.

Do you know of anyone facing or having faced pediatric cancer?
I don’t know anyone personally who has faced pediatric cancer, however a few members of my family have been diagnosed with various types of cancer. Based on what I have seen some of my family deal with, I can only imagine what these kids have had to go through.

What would you say to others about Circle of Care?
Circle of Care is such an amazing organization with an inspiring mission. Since two parents of children with cancer founded the organization, they have a real connection to the topic and the families being helped. You see so many organizations raising money for cancer research and treatment, but rarely ever an organization that provides assistance to the families. Not only does Circle of Care connect personally to each and every one of these families’, but also provides much needed support and relief along the way.

We are so pleased that our "Life Within the Journey" exhibit, brilliantly photographed by Jeanna Shepard of New Canaan, earned front page coverage in the Hartford Courant. Thanks to Sen. Ted Kennedy and so many who worked behind the scenes to help us share the story of, "an exhibit that has to be experienced, not viewed," as Senator Kennedy said. This exhibit is helping change the narrative around pediatric cancer, from one that focuses on the disease to one that honors the children, and takes you inside the journey through cancer from their perspective.

Creating a Moment of Fun for Families

We are often asked: "what can I do to volunteer, to do something that will make a difference?"

Recently, we got a very clear and inspiring answer to that question when The Conservative Synagogue of Westport collaborated with the SportsCenter in Shelton to provide a morning of fun for our families. It was a rare moment where the kids could just be kids, and the parents had a moment of relief. Hundreds of families came together to get connected, not based on cancer, but based on the desire to have fun together. The event was a reminder of everything that is good and triumphant about the human spirit.

Please consider hosting an event that provides children and families a chance to have fun, no matter how big or small. Maybe it can be a fun fundraiser as well, where the kids come for free but others help underwrite the cost and a donation to Circle of Care?

Make it small, make it big, keep it local -- innovate, create and do something.

Talk to us, and together we'll get the ball rolling.

The journey through cancer treatment is made up of many moments. We know the journey is hard, but we also know there can be moments of life within that journey.

Learn why 2014 was an extraordinary year for Circle of Care, and what we have planned to ensure our growth as we seek to support children with cancer and their families here in Connecticut over the next ten years.

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