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Nicole Phillips, Published October 12 2012

One girl’s work resonates long after she’s gone

I want to follow up on the column I wrote last week about volunteering with your kids.

The day after it appeared in the paper, I got an email from a woman named Karen in Sykeston, N.D. I think she illustrates better than I ever could just how much of a difference one person can make in the lives of others.

“Dear Nicole,

When my kids were growing up, I took them along when I would volunteer for blood drives, cancer awareness walks and other causes, but it didn’t dawn on me until a series of tragedies unfolded how much my kids had learned from those little experiences.

My daughter Monica was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in 2004, when she was just 11 years old. During her battle with cancer, she continued going to school, maintaining a 4.0 GPA. She played volleyball and basketball, and was active in Girl Scouts and 4-H.

But she also did something I know I couldn’t have done. She continued to help others.

Monica used her allowance to create “goodie bags” for kids at Sanford (then MeritCare) and at Roger Maris Cancer Center. She would hand-quilt lap blankets and crib blankets for the kids in the hospital. She would buy coloring books, crayons, movies and games for the hospital’s playroom and deliver them on her way to chemo or as she was leaving from her radiation appointments.

She would just slip in quietly, drop off the “goodies” and leave. Only very few were aware of her gifts. So few knew of it, in fact, that when she slipped into a coma in 2006, she received one of her own Easter baskets she had left there the day before.

When her classmates became aware of her projects, they not only donated movies, iTunes gift cards, board games, toys and books, but also had their parents donate material so Monica could create more blankets for kids and babies in the hospital.

Monica was also the recipient of much kindness. Her classmates wrote and produced a song while she was in a coma. They went from person to person and business to business to sell the CDs with the song to raise money for Monica’s medical expenses.

As seventh graders, I think they thought if they raised enough money, Monica’s cancer would go away. Sadly, neither their parents nor I had the heart to tell them any different.

Monica passed away Aug. 18, 2007. One day before the first day of her freshman year.

Before Monica passed she made me promise her something that I will never forget. In her whispered voice as loud as it could be at that stage she said “Don’t forget the kids. Just because I won’t be here doesn’t mean the kids don’t need their goodie bags.”

That Christmas, with the help of her classmates and fellow Girl Scouts, we brought in more than 400 gifts for the hospital and Roger Maris Cancer Center. Even now, five years later, we still deliver goodie bags at Easter and Christmas.

Monica’s classmates still make sure to donate as often as they can to as many organizations as possible, to keep her memory alive.

So yes, kindness is contagious, and our kids will learn the right way to live through so many life lessons, whether it’s cancer, diabetes, friends or just great parenting. I say, as Monica always did, ‘Life is too short to be selfish, and too long not to help someone else.’”

Thank you, Karen, for showing us what an impact one person can have on the lives of so many others. Monica’s classmates set up a Facebook site for her the year she passed away. I wanted to share two recent posts that demonstrate the lasting effect of kindness.

From Micahel: “Dear Monica, today I watched the movie ‘Letters to God’ instead of doing any of my homework. Good thing it isn’t due until Wednesday. I thought of you the whole time I watched it, and it reminded me of how inspiring a person can be. … Thank you for everything you have taught us down here.”

And another from Erin:

“Monica, I often think of you and how you have touched so many people’s lives. You made me realize to make the best of every situation because nothing is guaranteed. You’re greatly missed, girl. I wish you were here with us celebrating your 20th birthday.”

If your heart is telling you to give a bit of your time to help others, check out the numerous volunteer opportunities FirstLink is coordinating in our area at www.myfirstlink.org.

Please continue to share your stories of kindness with me at nphillips15@hotmail.com. Or send a letter to Kindness is Contagious c/o Nicole Phillips, The Forum, 101 5th St. N., Box 2020, Fargo, ND, 58107.

Nicole Phillips is a former television anchor for Fox News in Fargo, and currently the Executive Director of Diva Connection Foundation. She is the mother of three kids and the wife of Bison Men’s Head Basketball Coach Saul Phillips. Her columns run every Saturday.