Written by Sarah Curry Rathel (BA, Communication, 2005). Sarah is a Guest Services Assistant at Ronald McDonald House in Cincinnati. She is also a published author and founder of the Smile Books Project.
As children, we are often asked what we want to be when we grow up. During those moments, I would have never answered that question by saying I wanted to be an author. To be honest, the thought never crossed my mind. Yet, somehow, I sit here today with ten or so books published and I guess that makes me an author.
Allow me to back up. In 2005, I graduated from of the University of Cincinnati magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts and high honors from the Department of Communication. During my time at UC, I worked hard. By hard, I mean four jobs hard. I was determined to finish my degree in four years and make the most of my time with some of the most amazing and educated professors out there.
One day, I was sitting in a Communication internship class. It was there that I met two ladies from the Make A Wish Foundation. I listened to them talk and from that moment on, I knew that I would work in nonprofit. In fact, I went on to work several years granting wishes for children with Make A Wish!
After working there for a while, I had two children and realized that I wanted a deeper connection. I found a job opening with Ronald McDonald House Charities of Greater Cincinnati. I’ve met people from all around the world. Their children are very sick and they feel very alone. My job? Supporting them. Sounds simple, but it couldn’t be more complex.
Kids that are critically ill go through changes, both physically and mentally. They often like staying with us because nobody is staring at them. Everyone in our House knows what these children are going through. I realized that there should be something out there to explain that we’re all different and that makes us the same.
My book There’s Something About My Hair raises money for children and adults around the world battling cancer and Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMH). People in many countries not only purchased this book for their own children, they also paid for books and donated them to cancer treatment centers across the United States. I have had the pleasure of visiting schools around the city to read the book and talk about the importance of celebrating differences.
Last summer, I had an idea to help more children the only way I knew how: writing. My illustrator and I met with individual kids at Ronald McDonald House. We asked them if they could be the character of their own story, what would it be about? I’ll give you a few brief examples of the answers we received:
A little boy with a very devastating illness known as Hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH) has lived at RMH almost all of his life. He is only 2, so his mom said she would love a story about the day he gets the good news that he is healthy enough to go home to Hawaii. I knew that with his disease, he isn’t able to be around live plants or flowers. His mom made a comment that he saw a rose for the first time through his window and was excited. We created a story for him called “A Rose From Ryan.” His book details his life, the day he is able to go home, and ends with him handing his mom a red rose.
Another young child, an airway patient, loves animals and dancing. Her mom explained that she would like to be a dancing superhero that saves animals in trouble. Her story is exactly that! “Makayla’s Magical Shoes” was created for her and she loves it.
In a final example, I ound out about a sweet woman named Emily who was dying quickly from liver cancer. We typically work with children, but her story was so heartbreaking because she was about to leave behind three young children. A friend put us in contact with her, and I asked her to share her life, thoughts, and wishes for her children with me. She did, and we turned it into a story about a superhero mom. This mom tells her children how they may not see her, but they can feel her in their heartbeats every day. Emily truly loved this and called it the “greatest gift” she could leave for her children and family.
Most recently, we wrote a book for my neighbor, Kyler, who recently passed away from Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG). The book, entitled Forever Kyler Strong, will be part of his legacy. Kyler’s school is dedicated a bench in his memory on May 24th. My illustrator and I were there to debut Kyler’s book, read it, and send a copy home with each of his classmates as a surprise. Giving the book to his mother and then to his class brought many tears, but many smiles as well. A local television station broadcast a story about Kyler and our book project.
We typically do not sell the books we make, but for Kyler, we knew so many people would be asking. We allowed them to purchase a copy of it in full color print or in the coloring book format. All sales will go to covering the print cost and to a foundation that Kyler’s family is creating in his memory to fight DIPG.
Myself, my amazing illustrator and a very generous printer work for no money to create these books for children with the goal of simply bringing a smile to their face. We have enjoyed doing it so much that we created the Smile Books Project. We would love to spread the word about this project so more children with life threatening diseases can sign up to have their very own book created.
Looking back to that question about what I want to be when I grow up, I think I finally have an answer. On behalf of my eight-year old self, I hope to discover dreams that I never knew I had. Whatever I do, I hope I get there by doing things that make me happy every single day, but more importantly by doing things that make others happy when they need it the most.