All in the Wrist

Mrs. Johnson’s Autistic Support Life Skills classes have undertaken a fundraiser that has already made over $1000 for pediatric Leukemia patients.

The students in Mrs. Johnson’s ALS class take a break from their bracelet-making fundraiser to show off their work.

Kat Klinefelter, Staff Writer

When Special Education teacher Marybeth Johnson visited with her family friend, Angela Degnan, over the summer, she had no idea that her lessons plans for the first quarter of the upcoming fall semester were about to take a sharp turn. 

“I’m always trying to come up with new ideas for my kids. It’s always important to keep them engaged,” Johnson said.

Degnan started the organization Zip with Us in 2018 after her son developed a form of Leukemia, which is the most common cancer in children. Over the course of three-and-a-half years, he had a medi-port installed in his chest in order for hospital staff to more easily draw his blood and administer medications. 

Within the first few days of being in the hospital, a small, homemade, donated shirt with a zipper on the front was placed on Degnan’s son’s bed. The shirt, designed to make access to the medi-port in the child’s chest easier, gave Degnan the idea for Zip with Us.

But as her nonprofit grew, she knew she needed help.  That is where Ms. Johnson came in. 

One of the ways Degnan raises funding to create the shirts, which she makes by hand, is by creating bracelets. However, Degnan was soon making so many shirts for hospitals that it was hard to keep up with making the bracelets. Upon their friendly gathering last summer, Johnson saw the opportunity to help her friend by involving her Autistic Support Life Skills classes. 

“I am always looking for something different for my kids to be able to contribute to society, so when we started I had no idea if my students would be able to do it just based on fine motor skills or even they would have the desire to make the bracelets,” Johnson explained. 

Johnson’s original plan was to simply work with her students to make the bracelets and then send them to Degnan for her to sell. However, she soon decided to incorporate even more skills into her lesson planning by having her students sell the bracelets at NASH. So far, the group has raised over $1000.

“When we started, I picked a pattern and said, ‘This is what we’re going to do.’ The next thing I knew, they were doing it,” Johnson said.

When we started, I picked a pattern and said, ‘This is what we’re going to do.’ The next thing I knew they were doing it.”

— Mrs. Johnson, Special Education teacher

Now, the students pick the pattern they wish to create and are able to make the bracelets on their own. The only assistance that they receive, Johnson added, is from a para-professional who is responsibly for tying the finished bracelets. 

The students usually make the bracelets during their Daily Living class, but Johnson they have grown to love the project so much that they now make them on their breaks, too. 

“I just like helping out. It’s more fun making bracelets than just being on my phone,” senior Claire Knepp said. 

Some of the students, such as Miah Viscuso, have made over ten bracelets already. In fact, when she finishes her bracelets for Zip with Us, Viscuso spends her own money on bracelets that she makes for herself. 

On Tuesdays and Thursday during the period 6 lunch, Johnson’s students manage the bracelets table with unmistakable enthusiasm.

“When we started, I got to go on the microphone [in the cafeteria] and tell everyone about the bracelets,” super senior Syler Corona gushed. 

Since that fateful day last summer, a simple idea has blossomed into a full-fledged fundraiser to help children with childhood cancer, all thanks to some creative lesson planning and a group of passionate students. 

“I could have never anticipated how gratifying this project would be,” Johnson said.