Many angels have flown from a home on Augusta Lane, sending hope across the country.
On Tuesday night, volunteers were preparing more — wrapping, boxing and having fun reminiscing about the last few months while eating pizza.
Judy Stegman, founder of Your Voice Through Cancer, joined group member Donna O’Brien at her home with the four Fort Hays State University classmates who helped them through the fall semester with fundraisers and other projects to assemble packages for the group’s Angels of Hope project.
The project was conceived a few years ago, inspired by a gift O’Brien received when she was going through treatment for breast cancer in 2005.
“A friend of a friend sent me a box,” she said. “I started opening it, and there were angels in there, all different kinds.”
There were angel cookie cutters, a box of angel food cake, greeting cards with angels on them, paper cut-outs of angels and more items, she said, all individually wrapped.
“I would unwrap a couple, and I’d start laughing. I’d unwrap a couple more, and I’d start crying. It got so overwhelming I had to ration myself and open just a few every day,” she said.
Among the 30 or so angel items, she found a note: “You can never have too many angels.”
A few years later, a friend of O’Brien’s who lived in England got breast cancer. O’Brien saved a few favorites from the box she received and sent the rest to her friend overseas.
When Your Voice Through Cancer started working with the FHSU Department of Leadership Studies projects class a few years ago, she relayed that story to the students. They wanted to make it a project for the group and set out collection boxes for angels at area churches.
They collected approximately 300 items in just a few weeks, enough to pack 23 boxes that were mailed or given to cancer patients locally and in Georgia, Texas, Minnesota and Utah.
Many of the boxes were requested by family members of cancer patients as a way to give them some hope and cheer after their diagnosis, O’Brien said.
“I just have this vision of angels flying all across the world,” she said.
The stories of those who received the boxes have come back:
• A cancer patient who worked in a hospital cafeteria shared hers by setting them on a table in the cafeteria and inviting anyone to take one.
• A man got his box on his first day of chemotherapy.
• A woman whose young granddaughter arranged them around the house and told her grandmother “now cancer can’t get in.”
“There’s just something about receiving this box of angels,” O’Brien said. “There’s something very spiritual and very encouraging to get those and know that people have thought about them.”
For the students, working with Your Voice Through Cancer has been a transforming experience. The service-learning course matches teams of students with community projects. It’s intended to teach them strategic planning through community service.
The four students — Tiffany McCaffrey, Larissa White, Jacob Korte and Cheyenne Ellard — worked with Your Voice Through Cancer on various projects, including a fundraiser craft fair in November at Hays Middle School.
Stegman said the group was one of the best FHSU teams they have worked with and helped make the craft fair more successful this year.
“They got help from their friends, which freed up our time to go and talk to the vendors and make good contacts. We met more cancer patients that didn’t know there was anyone to talk to,” Stegman said.
Your Voice Through Cancer provides support groups for cancer patients, their families and caregivers, and provides financial support for those who travel to Hays for treatment.
McCaffrey said it was satisfying to let people know about the group.
“To just be part of something that we know makes a difference, it makes you feel good about yourself, and it can make an impact in other people’s lives,” she said.
White said she has been involved in nonprofit work for years, but learned much from working with Stegman, especially when a goal wasn’t met for a project.
“Something Judy said to me stuck out to me. She said, ‘It doesn’t matter if we just raise $1. That’s $1 more than we had. It doesn’t matter if we reach just one person, that’s more person we helped,’ ” White said.
“Looking at organizations and nonprofits from that perspective, it gives you a whole new way to set goals and a whole new way to look at things. I really like that,” she said.