She's helping hospitalized kids

Until last week, Margi and Lee Kyle's Cornelius garage was crammed with new toys and stuffed animals.

On Monday, Margi piled them into her car and drove them to Levine Children's Hospital in Charlotte, where she gave them to terminally ill children and their parents.

Kyle founded the new N.C. chapter of Little Smiles, a 10-year-old national organization that exists solely to brighten such children's hospital stays.

She collected the items through three "friendraisers" in the Lake Norman area. People had to donate a new toy or $15 for one.

Kyle, 67, an interior designer, formerly taught children with special needs. She's wanted to help sick children and their parents ever since her own experience with one of her children decades ago.

Her son, Alex Billesdon, was paralyzed in a diving accident at age 15, and for a year Kyle spent every day and night with him in the hospital.

Now 41, he has long since recovered from the paralysis and is the father of three boys, she said.

Other parents she met in the hospital couldn't stay with their children because they had businesses to run, Kyle said.

"It tore me apart," she said. "I became a mom to all these little kids. How can you not give to sick kids in the hospital?"

Little Smiles is the perfect way for her to help children once again, she said.

The Kyles' stepson, Scott Anderson, helped found the organization in West Palm Beach, Fla. It also has a chapter in Philadelphia.

In West Palm Beach, Little Smiles even turns terminally ill children into Hollywood stars at an annual Little Smiles Star Ball fundraiser that netted $100,000 in February, Kyle said.

She intends to start a similar gala at Lake Norman, including a red carpet that children will walk on as they sign autographs for guests. They'll get facials and have their hair done that day. They'll be fitted for gowns and tuxedos and will be driven by limousine.

When Kyle approached her stepson to tell him she wanted to start the N.C. chapter, she said, he wondered whether she knew how much work would be involved.

"Are you sure you want to do this?" he asked.

"No, I'm not sure," Kyle said she replied. "I'm positive."

She formed a board of directors with the Rev. Mike Bailey, senior pastor at Mount Zion United Methodist Church in Cornelius, as president and Woody Washam, market president for Community One Bank, as vice president.

Other officers are Pam Mange of Kids Path for Hospice and Andrea Westmoreland, a child life specialist at Levine Children's Hospital.

Just getting nonprofit status took many months, Kyle said. State Rep. Thom Tillis of Cornelius was a big help, steering the group to the right offices, she said.

But it has all been worth it, she said, just to see the smiles on the children and their parents.

Kyle said chapter volunteers intend to work through nurses at Levine and other facilities to get the right toys to children in their care. The group also intends to help such agencies as Statesville-based Dove House Children's Advocacy Center, which serves child sexual abuse victims.

Kyle visited Levine Monday with two of Little Smiles' five other board members: Sharon Washam, a Sunday school teacher who is Woody Washam's wife, and financial planner Scott Thompson. They had eight pizzas delivered, too, and met with Levine staff, who said they'd love to have the chapter deliver gifts on children's birthdays as well.

Thompson's interest in helping terminally ill children goes back to when his family believed one of their children had cancer, although that turned out not to be the case, he said.

While awaiting a diagnosis at Brenner Children's Hospital in Winston-Salem, Thompson said, "I was touched by the strength and courage of the children that we met that day. I have always wanted an avenue that would allow me to help, and Little Smiles provides just that avenue."

Kyle said Little Smiles is like a "mini-Make-A-Wish" and will give children whatever they need or desire, even a computer to do schoolwork.

"We don't want to send one child on a trip," she told me. "We want to put a smile on every child who's in the hospital."