Everyone knows the phrase “The best things come in small packages.” That is most definitely true when it comes to Ellie Walsh-Sahutske and her Hummingbird Fun Bag project. Ellie is a nine-year-old (“Almost 10!” she reminds us) student in Grosse Pointe. When she was in third grade, her teacher assigned a Genius Hour project, which allows the children to work on something they are passionate about. Ellie is passionate about helping others, particularly pediatric hospital patients. She previously raised money through neighborhood chores and lemonade stands to donate to help kids in the local hospital. When the Genius Hour project came up, it gave Ellie a chance to explore and expand on her efforts.
Ellie is motivated by her cousin Clare, who passed away before Ellie was born. Even though they never met, Clare inspires Ellie and her efforts on behalf of hospitalized kids and their families. Ellie shares, “Clare is my cousin who was born very sick. She couldn’t do much, but she always made people smile. She was in the hospital a lot because she was really, really sick. If you have ever been in the hospital you know there is really not much to do. The reason that I started this was I was thinking how she was in the hospital a lot and she and her sister must have been really, really bored. And I don’t want other people to be really bored because that’s not happy. Everyone should be happy.”
When Ellie started thinking about what she could do to help kids who were in the hospital, she first thought of giving them a bucket of toys. She soon realized that this would be pretty expensive, and wouldn’t allow her to help very many people. So Ellie and her mom did some research and found that coloring books and crayons were a great option — less expensive and lots of fun — that would allow her to reach many more people. Ellie set up a Facebook page, a GoFundMe page, and collection bins at her school and her parents’ workplaces. She contacted Beaumont, Grosse Pointe about her project and was referred to Beaumont, Royal Oak because of its large pediatric unit. A date was set to meet with then Parenting Program Director, Deanna Robb.
When Ellie and her mom, Beth, walked into the room to meet with Deanna, they noticed hummingbirds carved into the furniture in the room. This was incredibly special as the family considers hummingbirds Clare’s spirit animal because of a couple of occasions when the tiny birds landed on her and made her smile. In that moment, Beth and Ellie knew they were on the right track, with Clare smiling down on Ellie’s efforts. Between Clare’s blessing, donations coming in, and support from the hospital, Ellie was off and running!
Ellie named her efforts the Hummingbird Fun Project but didn’t know just how big her “little” project would be. In the end, she made and delivered 1,016 Hummingbird Fun Bags to kids and their families at Beaumont, Royal Oak! She got support from her parents, her school, and even Grosse Pointe North’s National Honor Society who donated coloring books and crayons. Her favorite parts of the process were when donations came in and when she got to make deliveries and see the people she was helping. And now, Ellie is hard at work on her next project – laboring with her mom to make hand puppets to donate as well. When asked if she had any advice for other kids who would like to volunteer and help others, she said, “No matter what you think, you aren’t too small to do a project like this because a lot of people like to help and people will encourage you.” Of course you’re not too small, Ellie – the very best things come in small packages!
– Nicole Capozello, Parenting Program staff