The Challenge: Hospitalized children often have nothing to play with or inspire them.
The Solution: Kayla Cares 4 Kids
The Teen Hero Who’s Making This World A Better Place: Kayla Abramowitz from North Palm Beach, Florida.
Kayla is only 14 years old, but she knows what it’s like to spend time in the hospital. She was just 6 when she would first show symptoms that would eventually be diagnosed as Crohn’s Disease, Juvenile Arthritis, and Eosinophilic Colitis. The eldest of three children, she also spent time in the hospital helping out a younger brother who also has Juvenile Arthritis and Eosinophilic Esophagitis. All of these hospital stays were not only painful and frustrating, they were boring. Kayla realized there were few activities that could distract or amuse hospitalized children her age. And so, she created Kayla Cares 4 Kids, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that collects and distributes toys, books, movies, and educational games to children’s hospitals and Ronald McDonald Houses nationwide.
Learning from her own experience, Kayla asks patients what will help them stay engaged and motivated during their recovery. She’s enlisted 13 ambassadors in 12 states, and has created collection boxes and social media campaigns to further her cause. So far, Kayla Cares 4 Kids has donated more than 12,000 items to 111 facilities throughout the United States. Last year, Kayla received a Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award from the Helen Diller Family Foundation for her hard work.
We caught up with Kayla in between classes to ask more about this inspiring campaign.
What’s your favorite game to play?
I really love the Wii games and Nintendo games. I also enjoy playing cards and board games with my family.
Who is your all-time hero?
I know it sounds cheesy, but I have to say my mom. She’s so brave and patient—putting up with all our medical issues, special diets, and hospital trips. She’s always advocating for us and teaching us how to advocate for ourselves—at school, doctor’s offices, even with our congressman and senators on Capitol Hill. She’s amazing.
What do you remember of your diagnosis?
When I was 6 years old, I started having stomach problems, and an endoscopy showed it was colitis. I’ve had a lot of endoscopies, colonoscopies, and video camera capsules since then. When I was 12, the doctors said I had Crohn’s Disease and Juvenile Arthritis. I also have Eosinophilic Colitis. I remember having GI symptoms and my legs hurting badly for many years, but it was difficult for the doctors to diagnose. My youngest brother also has Juvenile Arthritis and Eosinophilic Esophagitis. We travel an hour-and-a-half south a lot, because most of our specialists are with Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami. We also see an amazing Eosinophilic team at Children’s Hospital Colorado almost every year. My brother Ethan and I also go to Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood, Florida, for monthly infusions, which is much better than the shots we had to get at home.
What’s your favorite memory of handing out toys?
There was one boy, around Ethan’s age, who was a “regular” patient at Tampa General Hospital. The pediatric unit didn’t have any kind of game console in the playroom, so we donated an Xbox and a lot of games and accessories to go with it. When he saw it, the look on his face was priceless; he just couldn’t believe it. He said, “Really, that’s for us?!” It was incredible.
If you could sit down and chat with anyone alive or dead about Kayla Cares 4 Kids, who would it be and why?
I would meet with Walt Disney because he created a place where kids can feel magical, and it took a lot of hard work and dedication, which I admire very much. Disney is a household name and is known all over the world. If I could sit down with him and create a partnership, my organization could gain Disney magic.
How do you choose which facilities?
In the beginning, we knew we wanted to reach at least one facility in every state. So, my brothers and I took turns randomly picking a state off the map. We would literally close our eyes and put our finger down. Then, we would go on the Internet to research which children’s hospitals and Ronald McDonald Houses were in that state. Today, we identify places that need items and reach out to them to arrange deliveries. When we are traveling and on vacation, we often make deliveries in person. Otherwise, we ship the items directly to the facility.
How do you solicit donations?
Really, it’s been amazing. We had a contact at DreamWorks Animation, and we just asked if they would make some donations, and they gave us 1,000 DVDs. The same thing with Sony Pictures. We asked a friend of a friend who worked there if they could talk to them for us, and we received around 350 items, including DVDs and Plush Berries from the movie, “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.” Just today, we received 600 pounds of books—written by Mike Lupica and Lisa Graff—on a palette from Philomel Books, a division of Penguin Random House. It’s all about networking and asking for things. We also welcome “like new” items, so schools and companies hold collection drives to give to us, and we have collection boxes set up in various locations where we live, as well as in New Jersey, where my aunt Jill lives. If any readers would like to help, please go to our website: www.kaylacares4kids.org for more information.
What’s next for Kayla Cares 4 Kids?
I am in the process of reaching all 250 children’s hospitals and 181 Ronald McDonald Houses in the country. Kayla Cares 4 Kids is partnering with an organization that employs people with developmental disabilities to handle fulfillment. Then, once I reach every facility nationwide, I will start back over, beginning with those I reached at the beginning and see what their needs are today.
Anything else you’d like to say about Kayla Cares 4 Kids or your Tikkun Olam award?
The whole thing was so incredible. I got to meet so many amazing kids, and we still keep in touch. And the Diller Family Foundation was so welcoming to everyone. They flew me out to San Francisco, and I’d never been there before, so I get to cross that off my bucket list. It’s an experience that I will treasure forever, and I look forward to coming back as an alumna in the future.
I encourage people to follow their dream and pursue their passion. You never know where it may take you, what you can accomplish, and the incredible people you can meet along the way. I am so impressed by the number of generous people there are in the world who simply just want to help others.
This post is sponsored by the Helen Diller Family Foundation. To learn more about the foundation’s $36,000 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards, visit www.dillerteenawards.or.