Two years ago, Robin Viar’s doctor spoke the words no patient wants to hear: “It’s cancer.”
Viar was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer in March 2012 and given a 10 percent chance to survive. Determined to beat the odds, Viar pursued aggressive treatment in Texas and currently is cancer-free.
After Viar’s successful treatments, she and her husband, Ted, and their two children, 13-year-old Katy and 14-year-old Reid, reflected on how difficult the past months had been. Then, they started imagining how much more harrowing it would be for children facing cancer.
“We felt like, for as much as we’d been through, it breaks our hearts to see children go through what I did,” Viar said.
The family wanted to find a way to help children battling cancer, and Viar soon discovered a Virginia-based nonprofit, Ellie’s Hats. The charity is named after Ellie, a 4-year-old girl diagnosed with leukemia in 2013, and collects hats of all sizes, shapes, colors and designs for children fighting cancer.
“People can donate to (Ellie’s Hats) with fun children’s hats … things that kids will love to wear – beach hats, character hats, things they would get excited about,” Viar said.
The Viar kids talked about it and ultimately decided to host hat drives to benefit patients of the Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte. Viar discovered after talking with Ellie’s Hats founder Jay Coakley that most of the hat drives held in Virginia and beyond were organized by children. Viar agreed to provide support for Reid and Katy, but she encouraged them to spearhead the drives in order to align with Coakley’s vision for the organization.
“The biggest thing about the hat drives that the founder wants is that kids, children, are really the ones leading the drive. Of course, adults are helping, but the kids are doing it for other kids,” Viar said. “I talked to my kids about it … (and) said, ‘I will support you and be your backup, but you guys will be the ones (leading it).’”
Reid didn’t need coaxing from his mom to become involved with Ellie’s Hats. He watched his mom endure difficult treatments and lose her hair, so he can somewhat relate to what the children who benefit from the drive are facing.
“I liked the idea of it, I liked how the organization was available for the kids,” Reid said. “… I have an idea of what they’re going through. You just understand what’s happening, and it’s easier for you to help them.”
Reid and Katy set up two collection bins – one at The Bean and Belle Children’s Art Studio, where Katy takes classes, and another at The Athletic Barn Waxhaw, where Reid plays baseball. The Athletic Barn drive will collect hats through July 31, while Bean and Belle will collect hats during its summer camp sessions – July 21 to 24 and 28 to 31 and Aug. 11 to 14 and 18 to 21. Both locations have served as drop-off sites since June 23.
Reid said seeing donations come in has been a huge confirmation that what he and his family are doing will make a difference in children’s lives. He also said the drive has been an opportunity for the family to experience some much-needed healing after two difficult years.
“It’s gone from us having to go through that and it being tough, to us being able to help other kids who have gone through the same thing,” Reid said. “It just helps to know that you’re making a difference for those kids.”
The Viars will deliver the hats to the Levine Children’s Hospital once the drive ends, and Viar mentioned the possibility of an ongoing partnership between her family, Ellie’s Hats and the hospital. In the meantime, she’s enjoying seeing her kids’ dedication and is proud of what they’ve accomplished.
“They’ve been through a lot,” she said. “They understand that life is bigger than them and it’s not just about them. I feel very proud that they want to do something for others.”
People can drop off donations at Bean and Belle, 103 W. South Main St., or The Athletic Barn, 5412 Waxhaw Marvin Road. Find more information about Ellie’s Hats at www.ellieshats.org.