Cannon School seniors Katherine Goode and Victoria Godley had a life-changing experience last year while on a mission trip to Jamaica with Mecklenburg Community Church.
The 17-year-olds saw the poor living conditions of the children and how much help they needed. They knew right away they wanted to spend the rest of their lives working with kids.
So when they were asked to choose their Capstone project – Cannon’s version of a senior project – they knew right away they wanted to do something big for a kid in need.
And over the course of several months last semester, the girls were able to raise $6,000 to send 4-year-old Kenzey Smith, a girl they had never met, and her family to Disney World for a week as part of the Make-A-Wish program.
Recently, the girls finally got to meet Kenzey and her mom at an assembly at the Concord school.
“A lot of tears were shed,” Goode said. “It was one of the best experiences of my life.”
Godley, of Davidson, has received several college acceptance letters but hasn’t made a choice on where she will attend. But she, too, wants to work with children. She’s also asked Make-A-Wish leaders to intern at the nonprofit organization this summer.
Goode, of Rockwell in Rowan County, plans to attend Eastern Carolina University in the fall to study nursing. She wants to work with children after she graduates.
The teens raised the money through donations, holding a bake sale at Christmas in Davidson last December and hosting a Friday Night Fun Nights at Cabarrus County Gymnastics, where Goode works. For $20 that would go to the donation, anyone could spend the night using the equipment inside the training facility.
“This was a large undertaking especially to be done by just two people,” said Jessica Moore, development coordinator for Make-A-Wish Central and Western North Carolina. “Normally these donations are taken on by an entire class or a business. Having Godley and Goode do this on their own is what makes this so special.”
Kenzey suffers from a form of leukemia and was diagnosed with the cancer in February 2012. Since then, her life has been mostly spent on the 11th floor of the Levine Children’s Hospital, where she’s undergone chemotherapy and treatments to battle back the disease. But after a year of hard work, her prognosis is good, her mother, Diane Smith, said. Her family has to keep her away from other kids and mostly indoors to protect her weakened immune system.
But in January, Kenzey and her three brothers and sisters packed up their house in Salisbury and headed off to Disney World. It was the first vacation the family has taken since Kenzey’s diagnosis.
“Being able to go to Disney World meant so much to us, I can’t even begin to explain it to you,” Smith said. “So much of Kenzey’s life has been keeping her away from things because you don’t know what could happen but being able to just let her be a kid and not have to go to the hospital or discuss treatments was truly a blessed experience.
Disney works a lot with Make-A-Wish, so Kenzey and her family got to skip all of the lines and walk right on to the rides. She got a chance to meet some of the Disney princesses she idolized and speak with them.
Her smile never faded, her mom said.
At Cannon, Kenzey was timid at first. She hid behind her mom’s leg, not knowing what to expect from the two teenagers who wanted to lavish her with praise and gifts. But when Goode and Godley gave her the dress worn by the princess in the animated Disney movie “Brave” everything changed.
“She immediately put it on and wouldn’t take it off,” Godley laughed. “It was one of the cutest things I’ve ever seen.”
She wore it for the rest of the day, Diane Smith said.
“As teenagers, you can get a little lost in your own life,” Godley said. “All of the stuff you spend your days worrying about and then you meet this little girl. This brave little girl who came through it all and is still smiling and you realize none of your problems matter.”
The teens plan to stay in touch with Kenzey’s mom. They plan to visit with her when she’s a little better.
“These two girls did something that really changed our lives,” Smith said. “I don’t know if they realize it but they showed up just how blessed we are to have such loving friends and family.”
Godley and Goode see it the other way around. They both said they felt inspired and changed by meeting Kenzey and her family.
The girls want to make this a capstone project that Cannon students complete every year. So next year, another couple students will set out to raise $6,000 to make a wish come true.
“Having the chance to be a part of that organization and help these kids have their wishes come true would mean so much to me,” Godley said. “There’s nothing more special that that.”