Inova Children’s Hospital Pizza Party 2015

Last night, Washington Redskins Pierre Garçon and Chris Baker and D.C. United Bill Hamid and Travis Worra joined Capital Restaurant Group CEO Fouad Qreitem for a special “Paisano’s Pizza Party” at the Inova Children’s Hospital in Falls Church. The local athletes came together to visit patients under the age of 17 with gifts and pizza in honor of the holiday season.

Garçon, Baker and Qreitem paid a special visit to friend Juwaan Espinal, a Centreville, VA teenager with cerebral palsy. Last year, Paisano’s and Garçon raised over $20,000 to buy Espinal a specialized van to drive him around in his wheelchair.

“We are grateful to have been part of an event close to my heart. I was born and raised in this community and we are committed to giving back to our local families. Paisano’s appreciates everyone’s willingness to make this happen. Thank you to Pierre, Chris, Bill, Travis, and Ellie’s Hats for joining us. A very special thank you to all those at INOVA who care for these patients and their families around the clock; we recognize that you are the true heroes.” said Qreitem.

Pictures from the party


GMU Article 2015

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.”

 last pill

Ellie Whitfield and Jay Coakley. Coakley started Ellie’s Hats to help Whitfield and other children with cancer. Whitfield is now cancer-free. Photo provided by Jennica Whitfield.


“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.”


The Caps and 106.7 The Fan

This is the press release from 106.7 The Fan .


106.7 The Fan is proudly partnering with the Washington Capitals and Ellie’s Hats in their ongoing mission to donate hats to children battling cancer.

Ellie was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in the spring of 2013, before even entering kindergarten. That fall, she had lost most of her hair and was wearing hats to school every day, expressing her personality through her hat selection.

This served as the inspiration for Ellie’s Hats, a 501(c)(3) charitable organization which collects hats for thousands of brave kids going through cancer treatment with the hope that, by showing them others are thinking about them, it will help bring a little cheer into their day.

As Ellie’s Hats continues to grow, they are able to do more to support the families and locations treating children battling cancer.

A hat drive will be held at Verizon Center for the Capitals’ game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday, Oct. 30. Fans can drop off new hats at the Caps Care Community Relations table located at section 114. All fans who donate a hat will receive a limited edition Hockey Fights Cancer Braden Holtby Poster as well as a voucher for 10 percent off at the Verizon Center Team Store.

To see the release. Link

FCFT Sponsors Ellie’s Hats

We are please to announce that the FCFT has decided to become a sponsor of Ellie’s Hats.  Jay Coakley met Steve Greenburg, the President of the FCFT (Fairfax County Federation of Teachers), at a Fairfax County School Board meeting, this September. After learning about Ellie’s Hats Steve told Jay that he wanted to support Ellie’s Hats mission by making a monetary donation to help Ellie’s Hats with their mission to support families that have a child battling cancer. With the help from the donation from FCFT Ellie’s Hats will be purchasing new ipad’s for the Pediatric Specialists of Virginia.

The American Federation of Teachers was founded in 1916 to represent the economic, social and professional interests of classroom teachers.  It is an affiliated international union of the AFL-CIO.

The AFT has more than 3,000 local affiliates nationwide, 43 state affiliates, and more than 1.3 million members.

The AFT advocates sound, commonsense public education policies, including high academic and conduct standards for students and greater professionalism for teachers and school staff; excellence in public service through cooperative problem-solving and workplace innovations; and high-quality healthcare provided by qualified professionals.


The Connection Newspapers Story Oct 2015

This story ran in the Oct 2nd edition of the Connection Newspaper.

When the school year began in 2013, Jay Coakley, a physical education teacher at Woodburn Elementary School in Falls Church noticed that one of his kindergarten students had an affinity for brightly colored hats.


Seven-year-old Ellie Whitfield, who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in the spring of 2013, is the inspiration behind Ellie’s Hats. “She had no hair so she would wear different hats every day,” said Coakley, who is in his 33rd year of teaching. Ellie was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia a few months before school started and lost her hair as a result of the treatments. As the holiday season approached that year, Coakley decided to purchase hats for Ellie, but that effort grew. “My wife and I thought, ‘Why don’t we get enough hats for all the kids at her clinic where she receives her treatments?’” he said. “We ended up with 140 hats, which were handed out at a Christmas party for the children” at Inova Fairfax Cancer Center

Coakley used social media to let others know about his effort to collect hats for children with cancer and formed an organization called Ellie’s Hats, named after his student. It’s now an international collection effort, and hats are distributed to children not only in northern Virginia, but across the country. The effort is so large, that it’s often no longer possible to personally connect the hat donor and the patient. “Ellie represents all the children with cancer,” he said. “When you hear from the family that you’ve brightened a kid’s day, you just want to do more and you wish you could do more.”

“Distributing hats “brings a lot of joy to a lot of children,” said Jennica Whitfield, Ellie’s mother. “It allows people outside of the cancer community to be connected to a bigger vision of what is going on. It gives people a way to help, but brings education with it. The simple task of collecting hats brings awareness about childhood cancer.”


A knitting and crocheting group known as the Flying Fingers displays their creations for Ellie’s Hats. Ellie finished her cancer treatments in August, but has monthly blood tests. Whitfield says that Ellie’s prognosis is good. “She should be healthy other than normal long-term side effects.”

THE EFFORT has even touched other children and young adults. In Lorton, South County High School DECA (formerly known as Distributive Education Clubs of America), an international association of marketing students, chose Ellie’s Hats drive as the beneficiary of their 2015 community service project. Senior Nissma Bencheikh, who is the president of the school’s chapter, lead the committee that collected hats at varsity baseball game. “We made signs and encouraged students to attend the game and bring a hat with them. Overall, the game was a success and we received many donations from those attending.”

Other efforts included a school-wide hat drive. Students could either bring in new hats or purchase one for $5. Teachers say the lessons the students learned from the effort were life-altering. “I think that what they got out of the project is that you can use effective marketing to help make a change in the world,” said Pearl Springfield, marketing teacher-coordinator, DECA advisor. “They knew that their own personal actions would help a child who is fighting cancer. “I had one of my students who went out of her way and kept coming in with donations of hats,” Springfield added. “Whenever she would drop her donations off you could see her beaming. You could that she was getting joy from the difference that she was making.” Earlier this month, a member of the South County varsity football team spearheaded an effort to get his teammates to show support for Childhood Cancer Awareness month by wearing gold ribbon stickers on their helmets during a game. A gold ribbon is the symbol used to raise awareness of the disease. “The student spoke personally to Jay about this and … at [a recent] game, the helmets display[ed] support of the fight against childhood cancer,” said Springfield.

A knitting and crocheting group of seniors citizens, known as the Flying Fingers, also created hats for the cause. The club, which is based at Westminster at Lake Ridge meets once per week. “To see ladies in their 80s and 90s doing these hats is so inspiring,” said Nancy Ryback, an Ellie’s Hats volunteer and the daughter of one of the women. “The effort proves what one person can do to inspire others. You spread the word and people say, ‘What can we do?’ or ‘How can we help?’”

Coakley says one of the greatest rewards is increasing awareness and educating others about childhood cancer. Earlier this month, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and the Fairfax County School Board recognized September as Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.

“This September there are a number of high schools that are having go gold days to recognize childhood cancer awareness month,” he said. “In October, we’re going to be sending out packages of hats to over 200 children throughout the country.”


Dash on the North Dakota Today Show

A specialty license plate with a special goal

If all goes according to plan, hundreds of cars on Virginia’s roadways will soon display a special license plate with a small gold ribbon and a far bigger goal: to make passing motorists think about the wide-reaching impact of childhood cancer.

During the General Assembly session this month, Del. Thomas A. “Tag” Greason (R-Loudoun) will present a bill that would make specialty license plates, featuring the gold ribbon of childhood cancer awareness, available to all Virginia drivers. The bill marks the culmination of a project started by the family of Mathias Giordano, a cheerful and athletic Leesburg youth who was diagnosed with a form of bone cancer as a fifth-grader in 2012.

Soon after his diagnosis, Mathias had part of his leg amputated and began a grueling cycle of more than 20 chemotherapy courses. In the midst of Mathias’s treatment, the family bought a new car to take him to his many appointments and out-of-state surgeries.

When his mother, Roya Giordano, went to the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles to get a new license plate for the car, she learned that there was no special plate to signify childhood cancer awareness.

“I requested the gold childhood cancer ribbon, and the gentleman behind the counter said, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about,’ ” Giordano said. “He said they had the yellow one for the troops, and the pink one for breast cancer. But no ribbon for childhood cancer. I thought, that can’t be right.”

Mathias echoed that reaction when Giordano told him the news, she said.

“He said, ‘That can’t be right. Everyone knows what the pink ribbon stands for. We have to get the gold out there, Mom.’ ” She promised him they would.

Mathias died at home in December at age 13. Reeling from his loss, his family is even more determined to pursue an end to the illness that took his life. Compared with finding a cure, a license plate is a small step, Giordano said, but making people aware of the illness is critical.

“I knew about childhood cancer, but I didn’t really do anything about it before Mathias was diagnosed,” Giordano said. “It’s such a difficult and painful problem to contemplate.”

She noted that many families in Leesburg have been devastated by the illness, including the family of 10-year-old Gabriella Miller, who became a celebrated activist for cancer awareness and inspired a federal pediatric medical research bill after her death.

“I want to change the way people think about [cancer], not to scare people, but to make them aware that childhood cancer is not rare,” Giordano said. “It doesn’t help to ignore it.”

The lack of a childhood cancer specialty license plate grew from a complaint to a full-blown campaign after Giordano discussed the issue with Jay Coakley, the founder of Ellie’s Hats, a local nonprofit group that provides hats to children undergoing cancer treatment. Coakley investigated the process for creating a license plate and learned that the first step was to have a bill sponsored by a member of the Virginia General Assembly.

Coakley, a retired coach and physical education teacher, contacted Greason, one of Coakley’s former students, in August. Greason said he was happy to help.

“It dawned on me that I have so many people in my life, friends from high school, friends from college, friends in the neighborhood — it’s amazing how many people are unfortunately touched by childhood cancer,” Greason said. “It was an easy thing for me to try to get involved in.”

The next step was to collect 450 completed applications for the new plates, which cost $10 per year, Coakley said, with the revenue going to state. The money does not go to any cancer awareness or research organizations, a decision Coakley and Giordano made because they wanted the plate to be a cause that all cancer-focused organizations could rally behind.

“The main purpose of the license plate is to spread awareness,” Coakley said.

Within a couple of months, more than 700 applications had been sent in, Coakley said. About 200 came from the Leesburg area, Coakley said, and new applications arrive every day.

And the effort already seems to be spreading well beyond the commonwealth, he added.

“We’ve been contacted by New York, North Carolina, West Virginia, California,” he said. “All have contacted us because they would love to get a plate there. So we’re hoping that once our plates come out, as people drive from state to state, we’re hoping people will do like we did — they’ll call up their local DMV and ask about it.”

In a short video posted to the Team Mathias Facebook page, the Giordano family captured the moment when Greason presented Mathias with the bill that will be brought before the General Assembly.

In the clip, Mathias is curled up on a couch in a blue T-shirt, his head resting on a pillow as Greason shows him a design of the license plate.

“We’ll get this passed into law and signed, and it will always be known as ‘Mathias’s Law,’ ” Greason says. “What do you think about that?”

“That is awesome,” Mathias says, his voice faint but happy.

“Well, you’re awesome,” Greason tells the boy. “There are not many kids who actually have a law with their name on it that will live in the Code of Virginia forever, and you inspired us to do that.”

Mathias’s family is grateful that he had a chance to witness the campaign’s success, Roya Giordano said.

“I’m so glad and I’m so thankful that he did see the bill and that he was able to express his excitement and tell Tag that this was ‘epic,’ ” Giordano said, quoting Mathias’s first, overjoyed reaction to the legislation. “I think it’s going to have a real impact. . . . We wanted to make this a reality before he was gone.”

Fox 5 News Supporting the License Plate Initiative

We would like to thank FOX 5 News for supporting our efforts to get applications for the Cure Childhood Cancer License. This story ran 3 times on their station and they are posting about it on the Facebook page. Here is the link the video of the story. Fox 5 News. Link to the application.

Grace’s Hat Drive

unnamed (9)STAMFORD – A Stamford elementary school held its graduation today, but one student is still working hard to help children battling cancer. Two months ago, Grace Targonski, a fifth-grader from Davenport Ridge Elementary School, proposed working with a charity to help sick children across the country. She joined Ellie’s Hats, a nonprofit organization that delivers donated hats to children’s hospitals around the country. Grace says her inspiration came after her aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer one year ago. She soon realized how sad it must be for a child that is battling the deadly disease. She says that in one week, the school has already collected 50 hats.


Welcome to Ellie’s Hats

Ellie’s Hats is ultimately committed to bringing a little cheer into the lives of the children and families that are battling cancer.  By providing new hats to these children, we hope to bring a smile to their faces and brighten their day, in a small way. Since we started the organization we have seen classes and schools hold hat drives, teenagers raise money, workplaces donate, kids request people bring hats instead of gifts to their birthday parties, and lots of other creative ideas! All of these initiatives bring joy, but also spread awareness about childhood cancer and for that we are so grateful. The story that DC News Fox 5 will give you some more information about Ellie’s Hats. We hope that after you see it you will want to get involved.


The inclination of a public school teacher to help a kindergartner cope with cancer may turn into a full-fledged charity. This is the story of Ellie’s Hats.Five-year-old Ellie Whitfield is now growing a short, but thick, crop of red hair on her head. Last year, Ellie was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, which required immediate chemotherapy. She lost all of her hair as a kindergartner, and started wearing hats every day to Woodburn Elementary School in Falls Church, Va. Jennica Whitfield, Ellie’s mom, says her daughter sometimes feels quite unwell from the chemotherapy, but does not mind wearing hats.“Even when she was a baby, she loved to wear hats,” said Jennica. “She’s always been kind of a ‘hat girl.’ So it was just kind of a natural transition for her. It wasn’t a big deal to wear hats.” Ellie’s physical education teacher at Woodburn, Jay Coakley, noticed the kindergartner loved her hats, so he organized a hat drive, which vastly expanded Ellie’s choice of chapeaus.Jennica Whitfield told us, “She has, really, a lot of fun hats to wear. Every morning I’ll say, ‘Ellie what hat do you want to wear?’ And she says, ‘Bring me my hats.’ And she takes the bag and she looks through, and decides what hats she wants to wear for the day.” Coakley used social media to spread the word about Ellie’s Hats, and an eighth grader in Loudoun County decided to try to get hat donations from all 50 states. That she accomplished in four-and-a-half days. The surplus hats got donated to other families of young children getting cancer treatments at local hospitals and clinics.“And the feedback we got from the parents of the kids that got the hats was very positive,” according to Coakley. “So, in January, we started Ellie’s Hats, named after Ellie. And we collect and donate hats to children with cancer.” Ellie’s Hats is in the process of becoming a permanent, tax-exempt charity.For the Whitfields, the donation of hats made a difference.“It was kind of fun to have her hat stash triple overnight, where she had lots and lots of hats to choose from,” said Ellie’s mother. “And she loves it. And she puts them on her siblings. She makes us wear them.” The prognosis for Ellie is very good. She may lose her hair again, with more than a year of chemotherapy still ahead. But if Ellie does lose her hair, she will have plenty of hats to wear.