Photos of students from T Clay and Haymarket collecting toys to donate

For the sixth consecutive year, T. Clay Wood Elementary School continues the proud tradition of collecting toys for Childhood Cancer Awareness Month to donate to Inova L.J. Murphy Children's Hospital. Similarly, the sixth annual Lego® Drive is in full swing at Haymarket Elementary School, where students are trying to beat the school’s 2020 record of collecting 275 Lego® kits also to be donated to Inova Children’s Hospital for children undergoing treatment for cancer. For both schools, the effort is personal. 

Tammie Dipaolo, parent of Ella and Madelyn, brought “Gold Day” to the school after approaching Karola Scarce, the Relay for Life coordinator at T. Clay Wood Elementary about the idea. Dipaolo shared that at the time, her daughter Madelyn was a kindergarten student at the school, and her sibling Ella was only 5 months old when she was diagnosed with brain cancer. 

Ella, now a second-grade student at the school, shared why “Go for Gold” is important to her. "It makes me feel good because kids with cancer need help and to be supported,” adding that her favorite thing about being a survivor is, “Getting to do things and [making] new friends.” 

Some of the toys being collected include Play-Doh®, stuffed toys, board games, and Lego® sets. Children awaiting or receiving medical treatment at the hospital receive a brand-new toy or game to play with. 

 The school also participates in “Going Gold Day,” held annually on the last Friday in September. Students and staff members wear gold or yellow to raise awareness and show their support for children facing cancer, cancer survivors, and their families in the school community. 

“I am always grateful that T. Clay Wood Elementary continues to “Go Gold” in recognition of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Watching a child go through cancer treatment is heartbreaking and dark, but the way the school community rallied around us made it a little brighter. The toy drive T. Clay Wood hosts every year holds a special place in my heart. It means more to me, and other families affected by childhood cancer than words can adequately convey,” shared Dipaolo. 

“The ‘Go for Gold’ activities falls under PWCS Strategic Plan ‘Positive Change and Culture’ commitment because supporting events like this help make our school community a more caring, kind, and empathetic environment. It teaches our children to care for others,” shared Dr. Andrew Buchheit, principal of T. Clay Wood. 

Niko Chavarriaga was diagnosed in 2017 with leukemia not long after beginning kindergarten at Haymarket Elementary. He had very long stays in the hospital, the first of which began in the emergency room the day he was diagnosed. After three and a half years of treatment, he has now been in remission for almost three years. Niko himself came up with the idea of being able to give LEGOs® to the other kids on the floor who were spending long stretches of time at the hospital. He knew how much it helped him and he wanted to do the same for others. 

“During our long stays he didn't have the energy for much,” recalls Karla Chavarriaga, Niko’s mom. “We would read, sculpt with clay, but mostly he loved to build with the LEGO® bricks we would bring from home or the ones we would borrow from the hospital playroom. LEGO® helped the time go faster and kept his creative mind and fast fingers working. We like to emphasize that Childhood Cancer is not rare.” 

Niko is in middle school this year at Bull Run Middle School,” shared Scott Baldwin, principal of Haymarket Elementary. “But he is still a Haymarket Elementary Cub and his sister, Zoe, now in second grade, is here to carry on the tradition. For the entire month of September, we will be collecting new Legos® for all those children currently undergoing treatment. Legos help these bright young minds stay busy during their long hospital stays and/or emergency room visits. All the Legos® collected will be donated to Inova Children's Hospital. A gift from #NikoStrong and the Haymarket Cubs!” 

Haymarket’s LEGO® Drive will be collecting into the first week in October. View the Amazon wish list for suggested options to participate.   

Ella and her mom talk about childhood cancer awareness efforts at T. Clay Wood ES