Do-it-yourself ceramics donation boosts ailing kids
On a Friday morning at Children's Hospital, Southwest resident Eduardo Urzua, 8, is working intently, painting a heart-shaped ceramic dish green and pink.
It's his last day of a three-month chemotherapy routine at Children's, 2525 Chicago Ave. While he recuperates from the treatment, he makes a Valentine's Day present for his mom, using ceramic materials donated from Southwest's Doin' the Dishes, 3008 W. 50th St.
Ofalia Urzua, Eduardo's mom, said that he usually paints when he comes to Children's. "They have a lot of fun things -- I like coming here," she said.
Chemotherapy is hard work for kids, explained the hospital's Child Life Specialist Vicky Neis, a CARAG resident. She said they participate in ceramic painting during and after treatment, often helping keep their minds off an unpleasant reality.
Akaysha Hobbs, 7, seemed tired and a bit groggy after her treatment for leukemia. However, her eyes twinkled when Neis presented her with her glossy-finished, pink painted dish, just back from Doin' the Dishes' kiln.
Candy pieces that Neis has placed in the dish added to the excitement. As Akaysha picked out all of the pink-foiled candies (her favorite color), her mom, Diana Hobbs, explained that Akaysha has always loved art and she enjoys painting during her hospital visits -- especially when glitter paint is involved.
Neis said their patients' energy is often sapped as a result of their treatment, but the pottery painting is something the kids can do even if they get extremely ill. She said the activity is sometimes done with friends and siblings, too.
Neis said involving others in talking about and dealing with illness often helps the kids physically. "If someone feels cheered on and supported, their immune system is better," she said.
Neis said her partnership with the Fulton-based ceramic business began five or six years ago. She said she needed help working on a project where the kids painted tiles that later decorated the Hematology and Oncology ward.
She said Doin' the Dishes owners Lynn Gaspardo and Marsha Meury were more than happy to help, and the relationship blossomed from there.
Gaspardo said her business would donate or drastically discount their blank pottery, glazes and painting materials, as well as ceramic firing services for the hospital's cancer ward.
Meury said the store has lots of leftovers -- ceramic items people pay for, begin to paint, then forget about and never return to finish. She said they call the owners to remind them after 30 days, but if the items still remain unclaimed, they're washed clean and donated to Children's.
Overall, the storeowners estimated they donate approximately 120 to 160 ceramic pieces per year. Gaspardo said most customers are ecstatic that their piece goes to a good cause. "It's a win-win for us," Gaspardo said. "We get to get rid of the pieces and have a happy, glowy feeling, too."
Neis said donations to the hospital such as Gaspardo's and Meury's, are very valuable to lifting the spirits of the brave kids and something upon which her program relies.
"I don't think people realize how something so small, something from the outside, can make a difference in a child's day. Letting them know someone cares," she said.
Donations become a legacy
Neis said the patients who have painted pottery at Children's -- thanks to Doin' the Dishes -- have their art as a reminder of this time in their life. She said it's really meaningful for former patients to return to the ward and see their tile on the wall. For many, their piece is a symbol of survival.
However, Neis said for the patients who don't survive their illness, their ceramic work also serves a purpose. She said years ago, a patient began painting a platter with a leaf design, which kept him sustained and motivated while fighting the illness -- which, in his case was terminal.
"He was able to do that until the day he died, and now the family will have this platter," Neis said.
Gaspardo and Meury remember the boy and his platter distinctly. Meury said bringing in the unfinished platter for firing was an emotional experience for the family, who waited a year before bringing it in.
Gaspardo and Meury said although some of the children's stories are sad, the women are grateful they can help be a part of someone's legacy. Neis said she's just grateful for their help.
For more information on Children's Hospital or their donation needs visit www.childrenshc.org or call their Child Life Program 813-6259.