Caleb Wolf (left) and Raegan Weber (right) founded Henson's Heroes in 2012. Their mission is to help make kids happy while they're in the hospital. Henson’s Heroes holds drives throughout the year to collect toys, clothing, gifts and comfort items for Children’s Mercy.
Children's Mercy Patients Win Youth Philanthropists of Year Award
Raegan Weber and Caleb Wolf were honored this month as the 2017 Youth Philanthropists of the Year by the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) for the non-profit they founded, Henson’s Heroes. To understand this pair of extraordinary kids and why their efforts mean so much, you have to go back to the beginning.
A simple act of kindness ended up generating a profound, ripple effect.
In December of 2011, then 8-year-old Raegan was diagnosed with a brain tumor. After coming back from an MRI, she found a blanket on her bed with a heart-warming note. The words made the difference in her outlook and encouraged her spirit and strength. The note said: ‘I was in this room and sick, too. I know it’s scary, but it will get better. I wanted you to know someone was thinking of you.’
“I turned to my mom right away and said: ‘When I get out of here, I’m going to do that too.’ It made me feel better that another kid had gotten through what I was facing.”
Raegan’s mom, Stephanie, said the family still has no idea who left the blanket, but this random act of kindness gave Raegan the motivation to get better and sparked a heart-felt philanthropic effort.
“It’s so overwhelming when you’re faced with a situation like this. We had many dark days not knowing what Raegan’s future would hold,” Stephanie said. “The first time we smiled in the hospital was when we saw a little boy riding down the hall on his IV pole. That laugh provided some much-needed relief. Little did we know, six months later, we would become friends with this boy’s family, and our kids would start Henson’s Heroes.”
‘Kids deserve good memories’
Fast-forward six years. That little boy is now 17-year-old Caleb. He has endured more than 100 surgeries for a brain malformation he was born with and cerebral spinal fluid issues. Henson nurses know Caleb well, as he has spent much of his life at Children’s Mercy–including birthdays, Easter and Christmas holidays.
“My life hasn’t been easy. At times, it was even too much to endure, and I didn’t want to keep going,” Caleb said. “I don’t know what I would have done without my nurses to talk with … I can tell them things I wouldn’t tell other people. I trust each and every one. They’ve had a tremendous impact on my life, and they’re why I want to become a nurse.”
Just as Caleb’s nurses have cheered him on (including coming to the recent award ceremony), he supports other patients. Giving gifts to kids stuck at the hospital during the holidays is important because “kids deserve good memories,” he said.
It was a leap of faith. A mutual friend suggested Stephanie reach out to Caleb’s mom, Traci, via Facebook. Stephanie hesitated, but made the connection. The rest is history. Turns out, the families only live 13 miles apart … The Wolfs in Kearney, Missouri, and the Webers in Lawson, Missouri. They decided to meet.
“Caleb and Raegan instantly hit it off. They were able to talk the same language and encourage each other. It was healing for them and healing for us as families,” Traci said. “The siblings are often the silent heroes, and they’ve connected too.”
In 2012, the families held a “Brain Buddy Duel” between the towns of Kearney and Lawson to generate holiday toy donations for Children’s Mercy. The event exceeded their wildest expectations and, each year since, has continued to grow and fill a need at the hospital during the holiday season.
Henson’s Heroes holds drives throughout the year to collect toys, clothing, gifts and comfort items for Children’s Mercy. Its biggest event, “Stuff the Bus,” takes place each December when the community fills a school bus (or two) with toys for Children’s Mercy patients. These donations help stock the hospital’s annual Snowflake Shoppe where parents can select holiday gifts for their kids at no cost.
“As a parent, I’ve been there. You don’t want to leave the hospital to shop for Christmas when your child needs you,” Traci said. “We’ve been blessed with good insurance. Yet, for many families, finances are tight with medical expenses, and the Snowflake Shoppe helps makes Christmas possible for them.”
In the past five years, Henson’s Heroes has provided Children’s Mercy with donations valued at more than $155,000.
Raegan and Caleb agree they can’t wait to see what this year’s event brings. They’ll be the ones dressed as Elsa and Kristoff from the movie Frozen, collecting gifts and bringing them to the Adele Hall campus circle drive in a bright yellow school bus.
(Note: "Henson's Heros" will collect toy donations at the "Stuff the Bus" event on Saturday, Dec. 16, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Target parking lot in Liberty, Missouri.)
Learn more about Child Life at Children's Mercy.