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Project Sweet Peas leaders donate to keep son's memory alive
By Eileen O. Daday | Daily Herald Correspondent

Theresa and Don Wellman of Schaumburg, with the help of their daughter, Rachel, 2, gather items to put in a Project Sweet Peas bag in honor of their infant son who died in 2006.

 

Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

Some of the specialty items that Theresa and Don Wellman of Schaumburg pack into the gift bags they give to parents of critically ill children include handprint molds, a disposable camera, personal care items for the parents and more.

 

Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

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Published: 9/19/2010 12:01 AM

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A national organization known as Project Sweet Peas recently won a $25,000 grant through the Pepsi Refresh Project, and by extension, its Illinois leaders, Don and Theresa Wellman of Schaumburg, shared in the award.

Each of the 12 project leaders across the country received $1,500 to continue their mission of coming to the aid of families with seriously ill children.

"We're thrilled," says Theresa Wellman, a special education aide at Waterbury Elementary School in Roselle. "This will allow us to deliver another 50 bags to parents with children in the ICU."

Their award is part of the Pepsi Refresh Project, which plans to award more than $20 million in 2010 to move communities forward, its website says. The awards are part of an effort to support innovative, optimistic ideas, and each month, Pepsi awards up to 32 grants, ranging from $250,000 to $5,000.

Project Sweet Peas is a grass-roots organization - still working on getting its nonprofit status - started by three mothers who each had experienced having a child born with a rare birth defect called congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH), which required stays in intensive care.

They came together last year for comfort and support, Wellman says, and have devised a way to reach out to others who are experiencing the same harrowing experience of having a child in the hospital. Their Sweet Peas care packages offer a touch of comfort and simple devices to help build memories.

Since forming last November, project leaders across the country have distributed more than 800 bags.

Their gift bags include everything from baby blankets, booties, caps and stuffed animals, to handprint molds, disposable cameras, picture frames and assorted toiletries.

The Wellmans joined the project after their first child, Donny, lived for only six days in 2006 in the neonatal intensive care unit of Comer Children's Hospital at the University of Chicago in Chicago.

"We wanted to be at the hospital every minute, so we wore the same clothes and had to wash them at night," says Don Wellman, who works with a truck leasing company in Melrose Park.

They stayed at the Ronald McDonald House and had many of their needs provided for, but some things they still lacked.

"I had no personal items for my son," Theresa Wellman says. "When he passed, the hospital provided some clothes, but it wasn't the same."

Their son was born with CDH, and their activism in Project Sweet Peas is as much about promoting awareness about the disorder as it is to comfort other parents.

The Wellmans call their project "Donny's Shining Light," and share both their personal story about his short life as well as information on how to help support the mission of Project Sweet Peas.

They have a wish list of items they seek to help fill the gift bags with as well as a way to help support their efforts financially.

Since November, they have distributed 44 care packages to families of children receiving treatment at Comer Children's Hospital and are excited to be able to deliver even more after sharing in the Pepsi grant, they say.

"I just want to carry on my son's life," Theresa Wellman says, "and have his love inspire others."

For more information, visit projectsweetpeas.com.