By Givio Student Network contributing blogger, Franny Noory.

Childhood cancer is every parent’s nightmare. Whether experienced firsthand or through a close connection, it can change the course of one’s life forever.

For parents hearing about their own child’s diagnosis, it is heart-wrenching. Not only are parents left with unimaginable grief, but children are left with the difficulty of trying to grasp the severity of their diagnosis. This poses a challenge for doctors and parents trying to explain the cancer treatments without leaving the child filled with anxiety and confusion. Sherri Schrier had a plan to change this. A plan to help parents, doctors, and children overcome this challenge.

After losing four loved ones to cancer, Sherri’s grief became unbearable. She decided to channel her grief in a new, positive way – through bringing smiles to children who are suffering with cancer. She created a nonprofit, Happy Hats for Kids, which has four different outreach programs. The Hero Club Program, established in 2003, provides children with books describing their medical procedures using bright colors and pictures, along with a fun felt homemade hat. The books include the message that bravery is inside everyone, giving the children the titles of “little heroes”. Cultivating that bravery is something that takes courage and makes anyone a superhero! These actions of providing a care package might seem small, but in many cases, it is all the child needs to take away their fear of the unknown.

A recipient of one of these care packages while an inpatient at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., Sarah Noory, remembered how much of a difference it made for her. “When I received my happy hat, it relieved a bunch of stress from the fact that I had a bunch of wires covering my head from the EEG. It made me feel powerful knowing I could cover up the wires with my cool hat.”.

Another outreach program, the Transition to Work Program, established in 2007, gives young adults with a variety of disabilities, including autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, and hearing or visual impairments an opportunity to give back to the community. This program gives these young adults confidence in themselves, while providing them with life-lasting social and working skills. Participants help make the hats and create the hero packages, allowing them to have a sense of holding a job prior to entering the workforce.

The Inmates in Prison Program also brings this opportunity. Established earlier in 1997, this program is very unique in how it engages federal and state prison inmates to volunteer with the nonprofit and make hats for the children. From the work of these programs and regular volunteers, the organization is able to put on the Happy Hat Holiday Program. This special program creates events for the children in the hospital or hospice during the holidays while away from family.

Instead of letting cancer have the last word, Sherri decided she wanted to bring smiles back to those suffering, especially the children in the cancer ward. Do you want to help put smiles on children who need them most? You certainly can – by supporting Happy Hats for Kids and their mission. In times of devastating loss, we can all be like Sherri and turn grief into joy by bringing light into the lives of others.

By Franny Noory, Givio Student Network Contributing Blogger