Thanks to DMVStream.com for having me in to talk about Ellie’s Hats and our efforts to raise awareness of childhood cancer.
When Jay Coakley began collecting hats to give to cancer kids who lost their hair to chemotherapy, he expected the initial rush of donations to quickly slow.
Two years later, his charity, which by Coakley’s count has sent 10,000 hats across the country, to Europe and the Philippines, and also provides gift cards, iPads, crayons and toys to hospitals and clinics nationwide, is a phenomenon.
“It’s a snowball,” Coakley said, “that just keeps getting bigger and better.”
The nonprofit run on donations is called Ellie’s Hats because it began with Ellie Whitfield. Coakley, 59, BSEd Physical Education ’78, MEd Leadership and Human Development ’94, met Ellie in fall 2013 in his kindergarten physical education class at Woodburn Elementary School in Fairfax, Va.
Ellie, with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, had lost her red hair to chemotherapy. “She was a pretty weak and frail kid,” Ellie’s mom, Jennica, recalled. “But she wanted to be at school.”
“Just a teeny little thing with no hair,” said Coakley. “She always wore hats.”
So for Christmas, Coakley began collecting hats for this spunky student, now 7, in second grade, and in remission after 2½ years of chemotherapy. Between word of mouth, friends and family, Coakley soon had almost 150 hats. After Ellie had her pick, Coakley distributed the rest to kids at the hospital where Ellie was being treated.
Things took off from there with social media as the main driver. Now, hat drives occur nationwide. George Mason University had one. So did the NHL’s Washington Capitals. Coakley said a group of knitters are making handmade crocheted hats to distribute.
Coakley and Ellie’s Hats also were part of the successful push to get Virginia to issue a pediatric cancer license plate.
“Our mission is to help the children and families that are in it right now,” Coakley said. “What has become just as important is raising awareness.”
Coakley has given Ellie about 100 hats, and she still wears them, though her hair has returned, Jennica said. A Scooby-Doo hat was always a favorite, as was a Princess Anna hat from the movie “Frozen.” Then there is the one with the red ponytail in the back that Ellie wore when she had no hair.
“He’s amazing,” Jennica, MPA ’03, said of Coakley. “From a parent perspective, giving Ellie so many hats to choose from gave her a special confidence to go into school. It gave her something that was a positive distinction when it would have been easy to put her in a negative distinction because she was so small, because she had no hair, because she was so sick. It definitely gave her a confidence boost.”
“This little girl,” Coakley said, “I just felt like I had to get her something to brighten her day.”
While we see many sad stories about children battling cancer and what their families are going through we also see stories about people making small gestures that mean so much to these families. This news clip is about what some construction workers are doing that means so much to some parents who have a child at Boston Children’s Hospital. Some of the children mentioned in the story are children that we have sent hats to and come to know. They are the ones in the collage.
The Virginia State Officers planned a week, in September, to help raise awareness of childhood cancer. They called it DECA Goes Gold. Many schools took part in activities, to raise awareness, throughout the week. Here is a link to the post on the DECA website. Post
The Fairfax County School Board recognized September as Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. More and more organizations are helping to let people know that September is Childhood Cancer Awareness. This is an important part of raising awareness of childhood cancer.
Live and Recorded Public meetings of Jul. 28, 2015 Board of Supervisors Meeting Part I for Fairfax County, VA
Fast forward to 1:32:40 to see the Proclamation for Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.
The simple answer is, “Because it has to begin somewhere” and it all begins with awareness. The fact that childhood cancer; our nation’s number one killer of children by disease receives so little funding and research is unacceptable and it needs to change. Change will only occur if more people are aware. If we can color our country gold in September, awareness will grow exponentially, leading to greater funding and research that will save children’s lives and lead to more humane treatments for our kids. It works! If you don’t believe it does, look what the color pink has done for breast cancer; higher survival rates, earlier detection, and many more drugs developed by the pharmaceutical companies. Our kids deserve the same.
I was recently asked, “How does displaying a color cure diseases?” The simple answer is it doesn’t; but help us cover the country in gold this September and watch what amazing things the increased awareness will do!
Please do all you can to help us color the country gold in September. Please do everything and anything to help make September as gold as October is pink! It all begins with awareness. Gold creates Hope! #GoGold
The 6th graders at Woodburn Elementary School, which is where Ellie goes, held a hat drive as part of their community service project. Before the start of the hat drive Holly Senn, from Inova Fairfax Children’s Hospital came by to speak to the 6th graders about childhood cancer. The 6th graders learned a lot from Holly and were very excited to get started and collect some hats to donate. The 6th graders made their own presentation and went into the classrooms to tell the younger students about Ellie’s Hats. They did a great job.
We are excited that all of the baseball players in Loudoun South Little League will be wearing these decals on their batting helmets this season. They will also be collecting hats on opening day. This is part of the email that was sent out to all of the families.
“Opening Day is an exciting day for everyone involved in baseball, at every level. This year Loudoun South Little League, with the help of Ellie’s Hats, will be collecting new hats for children that are battling cancer. Please consider bringing a new hat to donate as we celebrate our 10th season Opening Day! Ellie’s Hats is a local non-profit organization that donates hats to children with cancer and works to raise awareness about childhood cancer. As a part of their efforts to raise awareness, Ellie’s Hats has donated a gold childhood cancer ribbon decal for each Loudoun South player to apply to their batting helmets this spring season.”