This blog post was submitted as an entry in the Teen Impact contest and awarded as a runner-up.
All of us have experiences and journeys that shape our character, our passions, and who we are as human beings. For me, there is one specific journey that has shaped me, and it began when I was 11 years old when I was diagnosed with a poorly understood connective tissue disorder, more simply known as a chronic illness. The biggest worries on the minds of most young people are school, sports, and having fun, but the biggest worries on my mind were of an entirely different magnitude. My medical condition was a constant source of stress and my days were filled with surgeries, treatments and doctor visits. My health issues exposed me to a world of suffering and pain that was foreign to me because it was not something I had ever seen at my young age in middle school. At school, I would see my peers complaining because their parents wouldn't buy them the new iPod or let them stay out late. Meanwhile, I would go to the Mayo Clinic and see people fighting just to survive, dreaming of living the life that I saw my peers taking for granted. The journey I have been on for the last six years because of my illness has opened my eyes to what is important in life and has inspired me to do something meaningful with my life.
In February 2011, I was lying in the intensive care unit at a hospital in Chicago recovering from my 13th surgery for my medical condition. Being away from my friends and my high school was causing me almost as much pain as the surgery itself. I was closer than ever to completely losing hope. During that hospital stay, I received a card and a blanket from a complete stranger. That gesture meant so much to me because it put a smile on my face and helped me regain hope during my time of need. I never forgot the feeling I got from that small act of kindness, and it inspired me to create a charitable organization called Cards for Hospitalized Kids in March of 2011.
Cards for Hospitalized Kids began with a simple dream of giving hope and joy to ill children, but it has turned into a nationwide organization that has given handmade cards to more than 4,500 kids in more than 40 hospitals across the United States. People from all over the country are involved with Cards for Hospitalized Kids, including celebrities and athletes such as MTV reality star and fashion designer Lauren Conrad, IndyCar racer Graham Rahal, World Champion gymnasts Shayla Worley and Aly Raisman, the University of Georgia gymnastics team, and more. Individuals, sororities and fraternities, clubs, community groups, sports teams, friends, families, classrooms, and other types of groups have donated their time and talents to make beautiful handmade cards. Each card is unique, just like each of the children who receive them.
I have created an organization that looks past age, income, gender, location, and any other classification imposed on people. Cards for Hospitalized Kids welcomes any person who has the desire to put forth a little time and creativity to bring hope, joy, and magic to children who are facing unimaginable challenges. It is hard to believe that a gesture as simple as a card can do so much good, but it does. We see it time and time again. Seeing a picture of a child holding one of our cards and smiling ear-to-ear, even though they are in a world of pain and suffering, is all the motivation it takes to keep Cards for Hospitalized Kids going and growing.
It is all too easy to group today's young people into a category of individuals who only care about driving the newest cars, wearing the coolest clothes, and having the latest and greatest technology, with little concern for the world around them. However, my story shows that my generation does have the power to do good things that have a positive impact on the world, which is why I should be chosen as the representative of my generation's power to do good things.