Two years ago, Kendra Cimaglia, then 14, was diagnosed with a brain tumor and started a program involving numerous chemotherapy treatments and an extended stay in Hasbro Children’s Hospital.
Wednesday morning, Kendra took the stage at Johnston High School to tell her story and accept a $1,000 scholarship from the newly formed Metta Students Foundation.
She confessed to be nervous, but that didn’t show. Rather, it was the radiance of her smile and her excitement that projected itself.
What brought Kendra’s story to the attention of a foundation that seeks to recognize inspirational acts of kindness was how she has given back to those who helped her.
“It makes you feel good about yourself when you give back to people who have helped you,” Kendra said in an interview prior to a presentation in the school auditorium.
Kendra’s gift had a serendipitous beginning.
While undergoing chemotherapy at Hasbro, Kendra took up crafts to keep occupied. She had a collection of pull-tabs from soda cans and knitted them into a bracelet using elastic cord she had been given. The finished product resembles a chain link bracket.
When Kendra’s “favorite nurse” spotted the bracelet, she loved it. Kendra gave it to her and soon she was receiving requests for bracelets from other nurses and doctors.
They weren’t looking for handouts. They were willing to pay for the adornments.
Kendra said she felt “guilty” about taking money from those who were helping her.
And then came the suggestion that the money could go to The Tomorrow Fund that had helped her parents cope with her ordeal. The fund provides daily stipends to families whose children are at Hasbro. The money often goes to buy food. The fund also helps with parking costs and provides far larger contributions so that families don’t lose their homes or are forced into bankruptcy because of medical costs and the time devoted to helping their children.
Kendra rallied family and friends to help her. Soon a core group of about 30 people were producing hundreds of bracelets. Kendra advertised the bracelets – Tabz-4-Tomorrow – that sell for a $5 contribution, on Facebook and through emails. She is working on creating a website.
So far, Kendra’s bracelets have raised more than $8,000 for The Tomorrow Fund and she intends to keep making and selling them for as long as there’s a market.
“We are so proud of Kendra giving back,” Tomorrow Fund Development Director Kathy Connolly told the assembly.
Tara Teolis, Kendra’s guidance counselor who also tutored her during her recovery, nominated her for the award.
In her nomination, she called Kendra “the definition of kindness.”
“I am honored to be her teacher. She has taught me more about compassion, determination and love in this short time that I have known her. She is an amazing 16-year-old young lady and I feel that her story will inspire others to pay it forward,” Teolis said.
Kendra was just the kind of young person Norman Kelly is seeking to recognize.
Kelly, a partner of Software Quality Associates of Providence, said he was looking to create a foundation earlier this year when he came across the story of Steve Carroll who has cerebral palsy. Carroll, a graduate of Johnston High School who is now at Rhode Island College, told him he had “the best day in his life” thanks to Taylor Boardman Kelly. When Taylor learned Steve didn’t have a date for his senior prom, she asked him out. Then, unknown to Steve, she and her friends started a campaign on social media to get him named the prom king. It wasn’t a contest. Steve won easily.
“You never know what an act of kindness will do for another person,” said Kelly, who is no relation to Taylor.
Kelly has endowed the Metta Students Foundation, which he told students means “loving kindness,” with $40,000. He is hopeful of awarding 12 $1,000 scholarships annually to students like Kendra and Taylor, who without consideration of themselves, have stepped forward to help others.