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  • Writer's pictureThe Beacon Today

Big heroes helping little warriors with the new virtual reality

Kids Cancer Foundation decorating the center to simulate a classroom setting for the students. Kids Cancer Foundation decorating the center to simulate a classroom setting for the students.

The coronavirus pandemic has drastically altered schools. For the health and safety of students, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) created guidelines and regulations regarding social distancing and sanitized environments that have led many schools to go virtual this fall.

Many students are missing out on benefits and opportunities of in-person learning.

However, the Kids Cancer Foundation decided to step up and do something. It’s a non-profit organization that has recognized the impacts of virtual learning and separation of friends has had on kids, particularly those dealing with life threatening illnesses such as cancer.

Megan O’Boyle, daughter of the Kids Cancer Foundation Founder Michelle O’Boyle, explained how working at the center has not only made her fall in love with helping kids, but it has allowed her to give back to the community and impact lives.

“I grew up volunteering with the Kids Cancer Foundation, my mom started it when I was just a little girl in our garage, and I’ve seen how much it has grown over the years,” O’Boyle said.

The pandemic has affected the center in various ways. Kids can’t gather for monthly events, there’s prohibited hospital visitations and prohibited celebrations at the center for birthdays and “End of Chemo” days.

“We haven’t been able to do our typical Kids Night Out because we can’t gather in large crowds,” O’Boyle said. “It’s unfortunate because we want kids to come and form relationships with each other and know they are not alone in what they are going through.”

The Kids Cancer Foundation is also a big support system for parents who have children dealing with cancer. These parents form friendships with other families going through similar situations and providing monetary donations.

With social distancing mandates in place, the Kids Cancer Foundation found a new way to help and support these families.

Another student at the Kids Cancer Foundation during her school break at the center.

The foundation opened up as a space where students come in and attend their scheduled virtual classes as they socialize with other children.

“That's a service we added and can give to the children who do distance learning,” O’Boyle said.

Before opening up the center as a “classroom,” the Kids Cancer Foundation made sure they sanitized and made it a safe environment for each student by having Hulett Environmental Services do a surface disinfecting treatment. In addition, the countertops and surfaces are wiped down with bleach and cleaner wipes everyday before children come in and after they leave.

“This has also helped us expand our education advocacy program, and it has helped assure that the students who are going through their treatments are getting the education they deserve in an environment that supports them,” O’Boyle said.

Gio, a cancer patient and student at the Kids Cancer Foundation, expressed how he deeply misses high school and wishes to go back for his junior year.

“I prefer going to school, but because of my condition, I can’t go back,” Gio said. “The Kids Cancer Foundation has helped me though. They tutor me, help me with my work -- they’ve done really good in helping other kids.”

Gio’s fourth grade sister, Jannyelis, who is not a cancer patient but likes to accompany her brother, is also going to the center to do her school work.

“Coming here is better than home because they help me,” Jannyelis said. “Megan will help me in math when I don’t know how to do something.”

Jannyelis also made some great friends at the center, which have made her feel better about not going to school in-person.

One of the kids at the center ready to learn and attend online classes.

Volunteer Dona Leonne has been going to the center everyday providing some of the students a teacher figure, and giving them one-on-one study time.

Leonne was a substitute teacher for 25 years, and when she retired, she needed to find something else to fill her time. She fell in love with the Kids Cancer Foundation three years ago, and she’s been volunteering there ever since.

She works closely with the youngest student, who is in kindergarten, and she’s seen his progress in the time he’s been there.

“We have been able to give the kids some structure, like with our little one, he could never navigate a computer and follow along a lesson without having a one-on-on. His attention span is too short,” Leonne said.

In that regard, he has someone sit next to him during his virtual class to support and guide him.

The Kids Cancer Foundation introduced two fourth grade students, Johan and Anthony, who met through their chemotherapy treatments. They instantly became best friends. The two have enjoyed online learning and even had the opportunity to be in the same class through their homeschool program.

Johan and Anthony taking their class together enjoying each other's company.

“My favorite thing about coming here is that we get snacks whenever we want,” Anthony said.

The boys both agreed that being at the center was more fun than going to elementary school in-person. Although not very expressive through words, the boys show their gratitude through laughter and smiles everytime they’re there.

Having the Kids Cancer Foundation open as a learning space has been a blessing to many families during the pandemic. The students going to the center have received support beyond words.

“They are each other’s cheerleaders,” Leonne said. “We made a bad situation as good as it can be for them to be here together.”

By Daniella Parra

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