Cadette lifts spirits of pediatric patients

By: Maria Allard | Grosse Pointe Times | Published March 26, 2021

 Twelve-year-old Kayla Saelens, a Cadette in Girl Scout Troop No. 75062 out of Memphis, created the “I AM” Project to benefit patients at the Ascension St. John Hospital Pediatric Unit.

Twelve-year-old Kayla Saelens, a Cadette in Girl Scout Troop No. 75062 out of Memphis, created the “I AM” Project to benefit patients at the Ascension St. John Hospital Pediatric Unit.

Photo provided by Nadine Saelens

 On March 10, Kayla Saelens, left, delivers donated items to Ascension Pediatric Unit Certified  Child Life Specialist Shay Rocco, right.

On March 10, Kayla Saelens, left, delivers donated items to Ascension Pediatric Unit Certified Child Life Specialist Shay Rocco, right.

Photo provided by Ascension St. John Hospital

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DETROIT/GROSSE POINTE WOODS/MEMPHIS — Kayla Saelens always leads with her heart.

The 12-year-old Memphis resident, a member of Girl Scout Troop No. 75062, likes to help other people — especially children.

So when the Cadette Girl Scout was looking for a project to earn her Silver Award in scouting, her thoughts turned toward the young patients at the Ascension St. John Hospital Pediatric Unit. Saelens created the “I AM” Project to comfort them as they are hospitalized for cancer, asthma, acute illnesses and surgeries.

Throughout December and January, the Memphis Junior High School seventh grader collected toys, games, dolls and art supplies for the unit. The Girl Scout Silver Award is the highest honor a Cadette can earn. According to Saelens, earning the silver award “shows you are a leader that’s dedicated to improving your community.”

The children’s hospital is part of Ascension’s main hospital, located on the Detroit/Grosse Pointe Woods border. Saelens made contact with Ascension Pediatric Unit Certified Child Life Specialist Shay Rocco about her project, who got on board with it.  

“I was very overjoyed by this,” Rocco said. “All of the play needs are all through donations.”

Rocco provided Saelens with a wish list of suggested items the children could use. Rocco said there are 25 beds in the pediatric unit and eight beds in the pediatric intensive care unit. The patients are from newborns up to age 20.

To garner donations, Saelens created the Kayla Saelens Girl Scout Take Action Project — Silver Award page on Facebook. Program supporters also learned about the project when Saelens was featured on a billboard displayed on Van Dyke Avenue in Washington Township.

Friends, family members and complete strangers showed their generosity by donating items. Monetary contributions also were welcomed. Saelens said she hoped to collect enough gifts for all the patients in the unit, but she surpassed that goal and received more than 1,000 items. On March 10, Saelens, several troop members and parent chaperones delivered the donations.

Saelens put a special touch on her cause by placing an “I AM” Project card on each item that was donated. The words “I AM” were on one side, with one word of encouragement on the flip side. Saelens said her fellow troop members helped write out the words that included courage, love, strong, valued, brave, confident, funny and blessed.

Because of COVID-19, troop members were unable to deliver the goods inside the hospital. Instead, everything was dropped off outside the medical center, where Rocco and other staff members retrieved them and then delivered them to the patients.

“I would have loved to have gone in and seen the kids,” Saelens said but understood the safety precautions. If she had the opportunity to meet the patients, she would let them know “they are loved, thought of and cared for even if they can’t see it.” She also wants to tell all who donated, “I really appreciate it,” and hopes to do another drive next year.

“The kids and patients loved receiving items like this,” Rocco said. “It makes them feel special. The toys mean a lot.” That includes for children of families enduring financial hardships. “Some of the kids have never had toys themselves.”

Some children are in the hospital for 24 hours while others might stay several weeks.

“It definitely depends on their diagnosis,” Rocco said. A donation like Saelens’ “changes their routine a bit and keeps it fresh,” Rocco said. “It lets kids be kids. I would say making slime right now is most popular, and painting.”

“It was fantastic,” mom Nadine Saelens said of the delivery. “We had all these doctors, Shay Rocco and interns come down.”

Nadine Saelens said her daughter put in more than 120 hours to make her project successful.

“We were surprised at people’s generosity at this time,” Nadine Saelens said. “If everyone does something small, we can make a huge difference.”

Troop No. 75062 meets out of Memphis. Usually, they meet in person on a regular basis, but because of COVID-19, the group has been meeting via Zoom videoconferencing.

“But they’re not as fun as the meeting in person,” Kayla Saelens said.

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