Gracie Dee Colunga: Got Hope Organization
1) WHO ARE YOU? TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF, HEY, EVEN BRAG A LITTLE.
My name is Gracie Dee Colunga and I am currently a senior majoring in Kinesiology at the University of Texas at San Antonio. I am hoping to pursue a career in physical therapy or becoming a child life specialist. Anyone who has met me knows my love for children. I realized that many other people aren’t as fond of children as I am. I decided that my career has to be with kids if I want to be my happiest. If I choose the physical therapy pathway I would want to specialize in pediatric patients. A child life specialist is a basically a person who works with pediatric patients and their families to help get through their difficulties while staying in the hospital. Aside from going to school full-time and working full time, I am proudly a part of a non-profit organization.
2) TELL US ABOUT THE WORK YOU ARE DOING AND WHY IT IS IMPORTANT.
I am the Marketing Director of a non-profit called the Got Hope Organization. Our mission is to break the barriers between cancer patients and those who wish to help by reaching out to lend support, build bonds, and bringing hope. Our organization is strictly a volunteer basis and 100% of all proceeds go directly to pediatric oncology patients. Aside from designing the website, creating flyers, planning fundraisers, and spreading the word I get to spend my time connecting with tiny heroes battling cancer. We plan activities to get the kids out of bed and to take their mind off of their cancer. We have done numerous events from Halloween parties to cookie decorating to a simple ice cream sundae party. We will honestly do anything to put smiles on these brave kids faces. One thing we love to do for patients that will be in the hospital for more than six weeks is to surprise them by decorating their room. The essentials are what make the room not feel so much like a hospital room and more like bedroom. We buy them a comforter, hamper, towels, pjs, and more. Other than that, we tend to go all out and buy what they want. We have decorated a room with LED lights. Another we bought a basketball hoop that’s easier to use while in bed. One kid got a tricycle to ride around the nurses’ station. What the Got Hope Organization does is important to me because I understand how frustrating it can be staying in a hospital bed fighting for their lives. I understand that they must feel like people don’t see them, and instead see their cancer. They just want some social interaction with someone other than their parents, doctors, and nurses. When we visit these kids, we don’t talk about their illness. That’s not what defines them. We talk about what they like and what they want in life. I think that is what separates us from other organizations. We don’t just drop of presents, which is nice don’t get me wrong. We are privileged and honored to even interact with these patients.
3) WHAT HAVE BEEN SOME CHALLENGES IN PURSUING THIS WORK?
A big challenge in working with pediatric oncology patients is watching an innocent child fight day in and day out for their life. They haven’t even experienced life and then they get cancer. It’s honestly the most heart-wrenching thing to watch.
The biggest challenge I have personally is learning how to not become so attached to these amazing children. Hearing that the 2 year old you spent two hours playing with bubbles (bubbles- such a simple thing but made him so happy) is now in the ICU is the most stomach dropping feeling in the world. Or worse, finding out that they are no longer with us. I become attached to patients easily. I mean if you saw their cute little bald heads with their huge IV poles next them, you would fall in love too. Losing a patient that we’ve connected with takes a toll on our hearts. We’re always honored to have met a brave fighting hero.
4) WHERE AND HOW CAN WE SUPPORT YOU IN YOUR QUEST?
Unfortunately, only 4% of federal government cancer research funding goes toward pediatric oncology patients. It is financially hard to support a child with cancer. Please donate to The Got Hope Organization so that we can not only have events for these children fighting cancer, but so that we eventually support their families in paying medical bills. If you are unable to donate, volunteer!!! We can always use another hand for decorating cookies or decorating a room! Whether you donate your money or time we truly appreciate anything to help bring hope to pediatric oncology patients and their families. If you would like to donate or want to contact me if you are interested in volunteering, please go to the Got Hope website.
5) WHO INSPIRES YOU?
I’m telling you all how much I understand what these patients are going through, and yes to an extent I do understand. However, I physically haven’t been in their shoes so no I can’t relate 100%. Actually, my inspiration is a young beautiful soul named Kaylee Carew. Kaylee was diagnosed with AML leukemia when she was 13 years old. She went into remission seven months later. Her vision was to start a club at Reagan High School that would provide support for pediatric cancer patients. She relapsed her sophomore year. Kaylee fearlessly fighting through cancer inspired me to fight for what’s important to me. These kids are what make me happy and I want nothing but to bring them hope and joy. Kaylee is my boyfriends’ little sister. She became my best friend and my own little sister. We both had similar interests when it came to crafting and children. When Kaylee had a passion for something it just radiates off of her. I would visit her in the hospital as much as possible. When I would spend time with her, I didn’t want to talk about what every other adult would talk to her about, her illness. We would take a step back out of reality and become creative. We created a journal of her journey and I would continue it when she was too tired to. Despite the situation, Kaylee always had hope, which inspired me to continue her legacy by spreading hope to pediatric oncology patients all over San Antonio.