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Lifting spirits: N-V students make ‘comfort’ bags for cancer patients

DICKINSON COUNTY HEALTHCARE System radiation oncology section head Brandon Baldwin, left, accepts “comfort” bags from his daughter, Kaylee Baldwin, and Tessa Castelaz, sixth-grade students at Norway-Vulcan Area Schools who recently donated 100 of the bags to the DCHS oncology unit in Iron Mountain. The duo chose helping cancer patients for their 20 Percent Time Project for Jacqueline Leiker’s technology class. (Terri Castelaz/Daily News photo)

NORWAY — For two Norway-Vulcan Area School sixth-grade students, the mission of their 20 Percent Time project was clear — lift the spirits of local cancer patients.

Kaylee Baldwin and Tessa Castelaz hoped to achieve their goal with 100 bags filled with “comfort” items they recently donated to the oncology unit at Dickinson County Healthcare System in Iron Mountain.

The 20 Percent Time project — or 20 Time for short — refers to students devoting 20% of their class time to a passion project of their choice, said technology teacher Jacqueline Leiker, who borrowed the idea from Google, which is known for allowing employees to commit 20% of their work hours to such projects.

The two middle school technology students both quickly agreed their project should center on those fighting cancer.

“I wanted to do something to help my dad’s patients,” Baldwin said. “I just want to make them happy and feel better.”

Tessa Castelaz, left, and Kaylee Baldwin, sixth graders at Norway-Vulcan Area Schools, recently donated 100 “comfort” bags to the oncology unit at Dickinson County Healthcare Systems in Iron Mountain. The duo chose helping cancer patients for their 20 Percent Time Project for Jacqueline Leiker’s technology class. (Terri Castelaz/Daily News photo)

“We really hope it puts a smile on their face,” Castelaz said.

The girls took in $1,705 over the past several months, along with many donated items. They monetary donations were used to purchase snacks, comfort items and things to pass the time — including pens, notebooks, puzzle books, socks, hats, chips, gum and candy.

One of the “comfort items” is a neck pillow, useful when traveling. “They can use these to help relax when going through chemotherapy, because sometimes they are at the hospital for hours,” Baldwin said.

The Dickinson County Hospital Foundation came up with the canvas bags.

Mary Lynn Verley, owner of Rainbow’s End Alpacas and Rainbow Gifts and founder of Alpaca Love, donated 30 items, including hand-knitted hats, mittens and socks.

Baldwin’s mother, Sara, also knitted 60 hats for the project, while Karen Klenke of the Prayer Shawl Ministry provided prayer shawls.

Some of the other items for the bags included Mary Kay lip gloss and lotions and Tadych’s Family Market gift cards.

“We hope the items will inspire them to have a good day after going through treatment,” Castelaz said.

The bags will be given to new consult cancer patients, either when they come through radiation oncology or chemotherapy, said Brandon Baldwin, DCH radiation oncology section head.

“This is a great comfort thing as they start embarking on this scary cancer journey,” said Baldwin, who also is Kaylee’s father.

He noted that hundreds of community members donated to the project. “It shows those that are hurting the community cares and they aren’t fighting alone,” Brandon Baldwin said.

The two girls are grateful to all who supported their project.

“I want to thank everyone who donated in any way with money or items, and also Dickinson County Hospital for letting us do this project,” Castelaz said. “And thanks to Kaylee’s mom for helping us so much.”

Baldwin thanked her grandmother as well for baking the muffins she sold as a fundraiser.

Leiker started the 20 Percent Time initiative in her class about six years ago. She said she was inspired by how teachers used it to help students think critically, go beyond traditional classroom activities, be innovative and creative, and take risks.

All of her middle and high school students complete a 20 Percent Time project.

They are required to go through a problem-solving process and fill out a 20 Percent Time proposal form from Google that asks key questions before they begin so changes can be made if needed.

Students have one day a week, usually Friday, to work on their projects — 1 in 5 school days is 20 percent of their time, noted Leiker.

Students who are in her classroom all year are given the choice of completing a project that will take the entire school year or one project per semester. If students are only in the classroom for a semester, as are the middle school technology students, they only have one semester to complete the project.

“Projects that make a difference in our community such as Kaylee and Tessa’s project, Matthew Doney’s project, Emma Wright’s project and so many others throughout the years are especially amazing because they not only teach persistence and follow through, but they also bring a community together over a common cause,” Leiker said.

“Imagine that sixth-graders can actually find ways to create these amazing gifts to our community,” she added. “They show compassion and kindness, but also prove how supportive we as a community are when we come together ‘UKNIGHTED’ for each other.”

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