Fall 2021 Edition
When CHC client Gwendolyn (Gwen) started on palliative care, her parents Mark and Erin had one main goal: to make her smile every day. Inspired by Gwen’s joy and strength, they founded a nonprofit, Gwendolyn’s Gifts, to share smiles and support with other families of children on palliative or hospice care. We asked Erin to share this remarkable story of courage and giving back.
Gwen is the oldest of our three daughters. She has a progressive neurological condition that affects all areas of her life. She’s currently in a wheelchair, nonverbal, blind, and using a feeding tube. There is not yet a specific diagnosis for her condition or a cure.
Our focus every day is making sure she’s comfortable, happy, and knows how much we love her. She’s a true superhero! She may have a terminal diagnosis but she celebrates life every day.
Having in-home nursing allows Gwen to receive the care she needs in comfort while my husband and I are at work. It’s so reassuring to know she has people caring for her who are skilled and knowledgeable about her complex needs. We can leave the house and know she’s in capable hands.
When someone is in your home and you trust them to care for your child, you naturally form a close bond. We have three nurses who treat Gwen like their own and we see them as family. We’re so thankful for the care they provide and want them to always feel welcome and part of our home.
September Smiles & Gwendolyn’s Gifts
September Smiles began in 2018 when my husband sent me this quote:
It immediately resonated with both of us, as we were hearing about other families who were going through struggles similar to ours. It was near Gwen’s 4th birthday, and instead of gifts, we asked for donations towards gift bags for these families. Word quickly got out and Gwen collected around $7,000! We were able to put together 85 gift bags and gave them to our social worker to distribute anonymously. We called the gift drive September Smiles in honor of Gwen’s birthday month and because the purpose was to help people in difficulty smile.
A children’s hospital that had received Smile Bags contacted us about doing a media special. Some of the families saw the news segment and reached out to share what the gift meant to them. Doctors called with stories of how much they helped.
We came to the realization that this couldn’t be a one-time thing. The following year, we filed as a 501(c)(3) and called the charity Gwendolyn’s Gifts.
September Smiles is still one of our biggest events, but we get to spread hope, joy and smiles year-round! Our mission is to provide emotional and financial support to families in St. Louis and the surrounding region who have a child on palliative or hospice care. Gwendolyn’s Gifts helps with rent, bills, gas and groceries, home goods, car repairs and funeral costs. We also “adopt” several families for the holidays to make sure they have a wonderful experience.
All of this is only possible because of the generosity of our donors. We’ve been amazed at the response. Due to COVID-19 we haven’t been able to have an official fundraiser, so all of the donations have come from online donations and social media. It’s been truly remarkable.
‘She Leads the Way’
When you have a child with severe medical needs, your hopes and dreams for them change from what you envisioned. That’s a hard thing, but in reality, Gwen has done more than we ever imagined. She’s far surpassed anything I could have ever hoped and dreamed for her. She’s an amazing child.
She’s the inspiration behind Gwendolyn’s Gifts. People watch how she makes a difference and they want to be involved because of her. She does so much without saying a single word. She smiles and shows us her strength and how hard she fights.
She leads the way and we follow her.