Teen helps hospital-bound kids battle boredom

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

At 18, Shelby Howerton is a leukemia survivor, an experience that makes her strongly empathetic to other young patients.

“It started when I was in preschool, and I underwent 2.5 years of treatment at the Aflac Center at Children’s Healthcare,” she said. “I went through it all – chemo, platelet transfusions, blood transfusions, you name it.”

But being cancer-free for 13 years hasn’t dimmed her memories.

“It was very challenging,” she said. “And I’ve always felt a connection to those children and wanted to help in some way. One thing I remember is that, when I was in the hospital, people brought in batches of toys to entertain me.”

That memory inspired Howerton and her sister, Faith, to launch a toy drive several years ago. Together they assembled “boredom buster bags” for young patients that they’ve delivered to the CURE Foundation’s Dunwoody office for distribution around the holidays.

“CURE has a list of acceptable, new toys that’s pretty broad,” said Howerton. “We also got thinking back to our childhood and the kinds of toys – not electronics – we played with when we were bored.”

Most of the contributions have come from the Milton High community that has learned of the drive through word of mouth. And the response has been surprising, said Howerton. “One year we calculated we had about $8,000 worth of toys. The people at CURE were shocked by the numbers. Even when we couldn’t do much because of COVID, we got a lot of donations; last year we got about $4,000 worth, which was a pleasant surprise.”

In addition, the recently graduated Milton High student was president of the school’s Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA) chapter that completed its fourth annual toiletry bag drive. Although she’s slated to start at Georgia Tech in the fall to major in neuroscience, Howerton believes the high school will continue what she’s started.

I made sure HOSA president coming in will continue with this drive,” she said. “They have all my materials, posters and banners. And I’ll just be downtown, so I can come back and help. And I want to do something similar at Tech, too.”

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