Emily Zint of Arlington Heights started seventh grade last week, one day after finishing up an important assignment - she made a major donation to Children's Memorial Hospital's brain tumor clinic.
Her summer-long project of organizing a garage sale to benefit the brain tumor department where her brother, Andrew, is being treated turned out to be far more successful than she ever dreamed.
It took place earlier this month, and where she ambitiously hoped to raise $1,000 from the sale of her old toys, games and books, she wound up raising more than three times that much - a whopping $3,617.27.
Last week, Emily and Andrew visited the brain tumor clinic to present their check. They met with Dr. Tadanori Tomita, chief of neurosurgery and Dr. Stewart Goldman, a neuro-oncologist.
Gina Baldacci, a social worker who counsels family members in the brain tumor clinic, says many of the funds that she and her colleagues use come from donations made by family foundations.
"Fundraising efforts by patients and their families just seem to have more meaning," Baldacci said. "The patients and their siblings are invested in the project. It becomes empowering for them."
She points to three former patients who collected gifts over the holiday for children in the unit, while many others have asked for monetary donations for the hospital in lieu of birthday gifts.
In Emily's case, Baldacci says it offered her a way to be a part of Andrew's "journey" as he continues in active treatment.
Last winter, Andrew was diagnosed with a medulloblastoma, which is the common malignant tumor of the central nervous system in children, accounting for 15 to 20 percent of pediatric brain tumors.
His tumor was discovered embedded in his brain, necessitating intensive radiation and chemotherapy treatment following his surgery.
He and his parents spent nearly two months at Massachusetts General Hospital, one of the leading centers for treating this type of cancer, before returning home in April. Andrew resumed chemotherapy treatments at Children's Memorial this summer, with the hopes of completing the treatments by the end of September.
"I just take it each day at a time," he said.
While they were gone, Emily stayed with her aunt and organized her garage sale idea. She did everything from research her pricing on eBay, to investigate the best way to merchandise her items for a quick sale.
It worked. The Barbie castle - her most expensive item - sold in a day, and for the suggested price.
But what Emily came away remembering were the different people who made donations. She describes a pair of men on motorcycles who had traveled from Naperville to purchase the Barbie castle. When they found out it already had been sold, they donated the castle's price, $100, to the cause.
Another customer, a teacher from Buffalo Grove High School, told Emily another item was mis-marked. It should have been tagged $100, which she promptly paid.
Emily even drew donations from Robert Gallo, senior vice president of Power Construction in Schaumburg. His company recently completed the South Pavilion at Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights and now is erecting Children's Memorial's new building, the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital.
And a neighbor of Emily's went door-to-door in their neighborhood collecting for the cause and contributed an additional $125.
"Yeah, I definitely went above and beyond my goal," Emily said. "We're even thinking about doing it again, but not next year. We're thinking of doing it every other year and do it all for charity."