KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Each holiday season is filled with toy drives and other projects to bring joy to people in need. But you won't find a 10-year-old girl and a 13-year-old boy leading many of them. This week's FOX 4 Young Achievers do. As founder of Henson's Heroes, they lead and they inspire countless people to join them in doing good.
Laughter comes easily to Caleb Wolf and Raegan Weber as they joke with nurses who've cared for them at Children's Mercy Hospital. There were long months of care for Raegan when she had a brain tumor two years ago, and many years for Caleb starting when he was born for brain malformation and cerebral spinal fluid issues. It is care that is still ongoing.
"Caleb is determined, he is so determined," said Caroline McIntire, Children's Mercy Hospital child life specialist. "And Raegan is a spitfire."
Raegan and Caleb became fast friends at the hospital and they know what it's like to spend special times like the holidays and birthdays in the hospital away from home. So they created a remarkable project to bring happiness to other kids who have to do the same thing.
"We give toys and hopefully hope that they'll get out and they'll feel all better and we try to make kids feel better because, I mean, it's awful to be in the hospital for Christmas," said Caleb.
"It means you're cared, you're not nobody," said Raegan. "You're someone. And there's someone that cares."
Raegan and Caleb head up Henson's Heroes, named for the hospital surgical unit where they've gotten their care. Together with their families they provide toys and gifts, even holiday meals, and other items of enjoyment, comfort and need to the unit's young patients and their families and for the staff, the nurses and child life specialists.
"I think it speaks to their parents and how (Caleb and Raegan) were raised and the kind of heart that these kids have," said McIntire. "And it's tremendous for children to want to give back to other children, to really understand that concept and not just say it but walk it out and really fight for that to happen."
It's not like Caleb and Raegan have nothing else to do. They are both very busy with school and sports, activities and family events. And Caleb is still in and out of Children's Mercy often for new surgeries and follow up care.
But they are tireless in promoting Henson's Heroes. The kids appear at events like a benefit concert and auction featuring choirs from high schools in Lawson and Kearney, Mo., their hometowns. They do toy and gift drives, fundraising breakfasts, 5K runs, the list goes on and on. They did their first holiday toy and gift delivery to Children's Mercy last December, valued at $20,000.
"We thought it was just going to be a little toy drive," laughs Raegan, "A few little toys, a car ride there and just drop them off. But it ended up being a busload." And they expect to make this holiday season:
"Exciting, joyful," said Caleb. "The last time we came in here there was a bunch of people that said, 'What you're doing is amazing.' So I hope there's a lot of joy and hope."
Leading with their big hearts and big desire to do good, Raegan and Caleb have inspired countless others to join them.
"For it to come grass roots from children, I think people are more willing to see the value and the purpose behind it," said McIntire. "Because they see the children standing in advocacy for other children. I think it builds empathy."
And Henson's Heroes keeps getting bigger and bigger.
"We're going to do more and do more," said Raegan. "We're not going to stop."
Now Raegan and Caleb are determined to get not just one but two busloads of toys and gifts to deliver to Children's Mercy Hospital later this month. Henson's Heroes has a "Stuff the Bus for Children's Mercy" event scheduled this Friday and Saturday (December 6 and 7) at Gary Crossley Ford near Liberty, MO. The address is 8050 North Church Road, Kansas City, MO, 64158.
They will take donations at the dealership both days and the buses will be placed there on the 7th from 8:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. for the gift drive. There's more information about the drive and the organization posted on Facebook. Search "Henson's Heroes". Also, there's a video on YouTube with much more information about Henson's Heroes, watch it by clicking this link.
Other informative links about Henson's Heroes:
STUFF THE BUS - TOY DRIVE
FOX 4 News is Working 4 You to spotlight outstanding young people and their positive accomplishments. In our weekly report called Reaching 4 Excellence we meet young achievers in subjects like academics, the arts, leadership, community service, volunteerism, career exploration, overcoming obstacles and heroism. Watch for Reaching 4 Excellence every Wednesday on FOX 4 News at 9 p.m. and every Thursday on FOX 4 News at 8 a.m. and noon.