By Jennifer Fernandez
The idea formed when Jana Tagel-Din remembered the light in her mother’s eyes after seeing the flowers and cookies.
Her mother was in the hospital — her second bout with cancer, this time stage 4 colon cancer. Tagel-Din remembers visits to the hospital as draining.
But then she saw how her mother lit up at an unexpected gift. That moment in May 2022 blossomed into the nonprofit Care to Care NC.
“I wanted to do something to … bring some joy to the patients and bring joy to the environment as a whole,” said Tagel-Din, 16, co-founder and president of Care to Care and a senior at Cary’s Green Hope High School.
Her mother, who is still undergoing chemotherapy, helped come up with the nonprofit’s name.
Today, Care to Care delivers care packages with inspiring messages and small gifts to patients in children’s units at hospitals throughout the Triangle area. The group, run by five high school students, has given out more than 800 of the gift bags to patients.
Co-founder and CEO Ashna Luhadia said on the group’s website she helped start the nonprofit because she believes that acts of kindness can go a long way, “especially for those who feel hopeless or discouraged.”
“If even one person feels better because of our care packages, we have truly accomplished something,” wrote Luhadia, a 17-year-old senior at Green Hope High School.
Children often report feeling afraid or anxious in medical settings, according to a May 2016 study in the World Journal of Clinical Pediatrics. The report also notes that hospitalization can be emotionally threatening and psychologically traumatizing for children.
The packages include items that can be a real benefit to a child’s emotional health during a stressful time, said Sarah Frantz, aftercare coordinator and child life specialist with UNC Children’s Hospital.
“Having a moment to be a kid versus a patient really makes a difference for a patient’s well-being,” she said.
Renee Hunte has worked with the Care to Care nonprofit at Duke University Medical Center, where she is the child and adolescent life program manager. She said it is impressive that Tagel-Din took her experience with her mother and turned it into something to help others.
“That says a lot about her as a person,” Hunte said, calling the teen “very inspirational.”
Along with the care packages for patients, Care to Care has also made thank-you posters and more than 150 bracelets for hospital workers.
The nonprofit has worked with the children’s hospitals or units at WakeMed Raleigh, WakeMed Cary, Duke University, UNC Chapel Hill and UNC Rex.
The community support means the world to the hospitals and to the families, Frantz said.
Support in small packages
Care to Care’s gift bags include a handwritten card, a sticker, a stuffed animal and a pair of soft, fluffy socks.
Some also include bracelets handmade this summer by a group of children at a local camp. Tagel-Din heard that the camp was looking for projects the children could take part in to give back to the community. She hopes to continue that partnership.
She’d like to expand that concept so that other groups looking for a community project can connect with Care to Care in making the care packages.
They’re also looking to expand beyond the Triangle area. Charlotte likely would be next, since she has a brother living there who could help, Tagel-Din said.
They’ve used GoFundMe as the primary source to raise money. Three campaigns there — the latest launched this month — have raised more than $4,800 so far. However, they’ve also received cash donations and made money through bake sales. All told, Care to Care NC has raised more than $6,000 since it launched, Tagel-Din said.
The teens’ work impressed Hunte.
“When you have this group of high school students who are beginning to think about philanthropy now, they will become some of the best philanthropists,” she said. “They’re starting now. That’s amazing.”
Tagel-Din’s mother helped her come up with the nonprofit’s name. And her mother, whose Arabic name translates to Faith in English, was the inspiration for the organization’s tagline: “For hope, faith, and smiles, one care package at a time.”
“I feel like it’s important for them to know that they’re not alone, that people, they have support, and not just their family or friends,” Tagel-Din said. “I just want them to know that they are seen and they are admired for their strength.”