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  • Writer's pictureJillian Heilman

The Kindness of Others

We celebrate Halle’s birthday each year, since her passing, by trying to carry on her legacy of kindness and love. Halle was a young woman who exuded kindness and loved to make other people smile. She truly brought joy to anyone who met her. So, as many of you know, we choose to celebrate that spirit of kindness through our annual Halle Grace toy drive that benefits local children’s hospitals, infusion clinics, and outpatient care centers by bringing joy to some children who need it most. The Tampa Bay area, where we live, has 3 main children’s hospitals, and we were so blessed by the outpouring of donations this year that we were able to donate to each one. More on that in a minute.

Halle’s Spirit of Kindness

This year, more then ever we wanted to keep Halle’s name alive through sharing her spirit of kindness in many different ways. Many of us have been under a great deal of stress the past couple years with a heated election (to say the very least) and a global pandemic. I have seen so much anger and hate in our world, that I wanted to tap into the example Halle left us and find a way to bring joy and kindness back to the forefront of our lives. Halle constantly reminded me, despite all the trials she faced, medically, psychological, socially, and emotionally, to keep your heart open to others. To love life and to love others, as she would say, to love "Big Much."

One example that comes to mind of that "Big Much" love and kindness Halle shared comes from Halle’s 5th grade teacher, Ms. Haslam. Ms. Haslam had invited her aging father in to to her class to share a bit of his life with her students. He seemed frail but strong to Halle. While his body was weaker, his words of strength encouraged that group of 10-year-olds. At one point he looked exceptionally tired with the experience. As he sat in the chair at the front of the room, Halle quietly walked up beside him and placed her hand on top of his. He continued his talk with the class, with Halle’s hand wrapped around his. Halle connected with people. She knew when they needed that soft nudge of kindess and support.

That is not to say people were always kind to her. In fact, some kids were quite nasty. That is another story that will be going in the book I am writing, but for now we will leave it at: Halle shared kindness with others despite the lack of kindness shown her at times. She forgave quickly and loved deeply. She volunteered her time with the children’s ministry at her church. She helped her Gram at her Quilt shop. She set the table for dinner and read to her little sister and brother when I had a long day and needed a few minutes to myself. She sensed when others needed her most.

Even on her darkest and most painful days, Halle Grace thought of others. I remember the day we were told she would enter Hospice for end-of-life care, we were wheeling Halle out of St. Joe’s when she stopped her chair, put the brakes on, and asked to speak with John and I – right there in the middle of sidewalk outside the children’s hospital. She held John’s hand in one of her hands and mine in the other. She then quietly said, “I know this was the hardest thing you have had to do for me, letting me go into Hospice...letting me go and I am sorry for that. I love you, but please know you are letting me die on my terms and I am so grateful. Thank you. This is what I want.” Here she was, the one dying, but she was more concerned for us and what we were going through. She took the time to thank us for making that most difficult decision a parent must face, to let their child go. I look back on that moment many days when I feel like I should have done more for her and I realize, she gave me a gift in that one conversation. She told me it was time to let her go. She thought of us and how her desire to let go would impact our lives. She thought of what we would be going through, rather than focusing on herself and what fate would bring her soon. Halle demonstrated true empathy and kindness for others, right up to the very end. It is that spirit of kindness that we approached our annual toy drive this year.

5th Annual Halle Grace Toy Drive

We set the goal this year to collect 2,100 toys in honor of Halle’s 21st Birthday! If I am being completely honest, I wasn’t sure we would reach our goal….but I was so wrong! Not only did we reach our goal (and exceed it), but we saw the same spirit of Kindness Halle lived by, coming from friends, family, and complete strangers! I was yet again reminded of the good in this world and the kindness of others. So much so, that we had a new Halle Grace shirt designed to deliver the toys this year, our Bee Kind shirts!

A few examples of that kindness:

  • A high school friend sent donations at the beginning and end of the toy drive, to make sure we reached our goal.

  • A college friend organized a book party with our foundation receiving 65 free books to deliver.

  • A friend asked for donations for her own birthday and was able to collect over 200 to donate.

  • Friends who have their own child dealing with medical issues donated.

  • Friends who have lost a child donated.

  • Another friend went to 3 stores to find a barbie with a disability to make some child know they were just like everyone else.

  • People donated $21, $121, $210 or 21 toys all in memory of my sweet girl’s 21st!

  • Two local high school national honor societies collected over 200 toys combined.

  • A local high schooler asked her work to support a donation collection at their ice cream shop.

  • And the list of kind acts goes on and on and on.

As the generosity poured in over the past few months, I am reminded of how truly kind others are in my life and around me. Being altruistic comes naturally for some, as the many examples from my community demonstrated. That true spirit of giving and of helping others, with no expectation for anything in return was repeatedly reflected in the acts of others. It is with that spirit of kindness that we are kicking off a year of kindness in Halle’s memory! We are hoping to see more than 2,100 Acts of Kindness shared by others in the coming year, and I will be posting more on our Bee Kind Campaign and the year of kindness in next week's blog! But to kick it off.....

Our first act of kindness in Halle's memory was being able to deliver those 2,100+ donations to 5 different pediatric locations on what would have been Halle’s 21st birthday, June 2, 2021! And we know we could not have done that without the loving support and kindess from so many of you! Thank! Thank you! THANK YOU! You all allowed us to share joy and love with so many children in our community on such a special day.

But, before we could start delivering, Ben and I had to start the day off early as he was scheduled for his 2nd Covid vaccine early that morning. He and I loaded the toys for the first two locations and headed out to USF for his shot first thing in the morning. This was a day I have been waiting for, for the past year and a half. All of the Heilman crew has now been fully vaccinated. What a great way to start off Halle’s birthday! She would be excited for her little brother. Once we finished at USF, we made a quick Starbucks run to get us ready for a day of deliveries.

We then headed to All Children’s Tampa location for our first toy drive drop off! We were excited to have our first donation drop-off be a new location for us. The Tampa All Children’s Specialty Center. They were thrilled with the donations as they have a various pediatric clinics, rehabilitation services, and an infusion clinic at their location and they are so short on donations for their patients.

While Ben and I dropped off there, John, Neeley, and her boyfriend Truman met my friends Alli and Patrick at our house and loaded up three more cars and trucks with over 1500 additional toys, books, and crafts. I was a bit nervous that morning, as this was the first time I was not at the house for the toy drive “load up.” I had reviewed with Neeley the night before, all the donation piles and identified which groupings went in which truck / car with which driver. You see, I had spent a week organizing 2,100+ donations for each of the five drop off sites. I made sure each box was organized by age, gender, and type of activity. I had also left printed itineraries and maps for each drop off site and location. This was our 5th toy drive, and I had things organized…but I wasn’t there to execute. But I soon learned, I had nothing to fear! Miss Neeley executed Mission Toy Drive without a hitch. My friend, Alli, a former Army Black Hawk Pilot, who was part of our delivery team had noted she had had drill sergeants less organized and structured as Neeley. That’s my girl!!!

While Neeley was effectively handling the massive load-up, Ben and I made our way to our 2nd drop off location, St. Joseph’s Pediatric Motion Analysis Center (MAC). With all the donations that came in this year, we were able to reach out to another new location working with kids in our local children’s hospitals. Lauren, the physical therapist at MAC, had mentioned she was open to any donations, but was in need of “toys” for teenagers and you all helped us deliver just that! This included various nerf guns, tech decks, nail polish, collectible rubber ducks, and so much more. At some point I mentioned, “these are big with the teens,” which Ben thought was hilarious. When we got back into the car to head over to our third drop off site, he lost it! As he was laughing, he kept asking me “oh, are those BIG with the teens?” “Hey Mom – tell me, are those big with the teens?” He then proceeded to laugh hysterically as I sounded like an old lady. At least Ben wasn’t focused on the pain in his arm from the vaccine, no, he was having more fun giving his mom a hard time.

Ben and this old lady headed over to the other side of St. Joe’s to the Pediatric Infusion Clinic for drop off # 3! Nurse Kelley met us out front and we were able to share a few hugs as the calvary had arrived with 2 trucks and an SUV pulling into the loop ready to unload another 600 toys to children receiving treatment at the hospital. I was excited to finally see John, Neeley, and the rest of our delivery team for the first time that morning! Our delivery team worked like a well-oiled machine. John’s SUV was unloaded in record time and it only required one trip to get all the donations into the clinic! We spent a little extra time out front taking a few pictures and talking to Kelley. You see, Nurse

Kelley, used to help out with the kids when they were little. In fact, when Kelley was a senior in high school, she volunteered in Halle’s kindergarten class. She often helped Halle maneuver the playground so she could keep up with the other kids. I remember Halle coming home and telling me she made it across the monkey bars that day. “Lizzie’s sister Kelley played with me today. She helped me cross the monkey bars. I did it just like everyone else!” Halle would think it is extra special that we now spend part of her birthday supporting Ms. Kelley’s patients at the infusion clinic.

After we finished up at St. Joe’s we decided it was best for us all to divide and conquer. Neeley and Truman headed to drop off at All Children’s Main hospital, while the rest of us headed to Tampa General Hospital to drop off more donations with their pediatric unit. TGH was so much fun. They brought out their foundation team, their child life specialists, and their new therapy dog Belle. We were able to share Halle’s story with the TGH team and also told them that Halle’s favorite princess was Belle (because she was an avid reader) and their dog was named after the same princess. They were so gracious with their time and so thankful for all the donations we could share with them. As with all the other hospitals, they were unable to accept donations during covid, so their supplies were completely diminished. As we said our goodbyes and

headed back to the house, I was reminded why we do this every year, my heart was full of pure joy. Joy for being able to do something so special on Halle’s birthday. A day that could be difficult for us all, but is now a day that hundreds of kids will benefit from the generosity of so many people sharing a little something in Halle’s name with kids who need it most.

We finished off the day back at the house, toasting our girl with a bit of bubbly and enjoying a few bumble bee cupcakes. We thought a Bee themed birthday was appropriate for her 21st, as it was the same theme we had for her very 1st birthday and it is theme we are spreading this year for our Foundation. More on "Beeing Kind" next week. 😊

The evening was full of drinks, laughter, friends, a few more drinks, a few rounds of cards against humanity, and many other festivities that made Halle's 21st one to remember! But that is a story for another day!

After everyone was gone, John and I decided to watch one of the last movies Halle saw before she died, the live-action Cinderella movie. As John and I watched the Disney classic, we saw so many similarities between Halle and this princess in the blue dress. Kindness, even in the darkest of times, helped them both deal with the struggles life had given them. I was then taken aback by one of the last things said as the movie came to a close;

"Cinderella did not see the world as it was but as it could be. With courage and kindness and a little bit of magic.”

Halle was similar to the princess, as she approached her own life with more courage than anyone I know. Halle chose not to allow her struggles define her but rather opened her heart and loved others fully. She was truly a kind soul that always encouraged and supported all those around her. It is that courage and kindness that we continue to honor her memory in such a big way every June 2nd. As for the magic, well, she does leave a sparkle wherever she goes.

Thank you again to everyone who allowed us to make this such a special 21st Birthday for Halle this year! Big Much Halle, Big Much.

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