By Oscar Wolfe
It’s often hard to see how teens and especially tweens can help others their age. Pia Phillips and Abbie Nelson came up with a great way to do it.
It all started when the two met at 4 years old. In seventh grade, Abbie was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. While she was in the hospital, Pia would come and visit her, “She was right by my side the whole time,” Pia says. But a year later, Pia was diagnosed with Stage 2A Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. “It’s a long term thing that doesn’t go away necessarily. So having that support system between us really helped me,” says Pia, who is in remission.
They realized that while they had each other to rely on in during their difficult times, many other kids going through an illness didn’t have anyone. As Pia put it, “You can have all the money in the world or nothing, but comfort is always something that anyone wants, especially in the hospital.” So they set out to help the teens in the hospital.
When Pia and Abbie, now 17 and 18, started telling their parents that they wanted to help, Abbie’s mom told them about an organization that gave backpacks to homeless people. So they decided that they could do the same thing, but for teens in the hospital. The name, PAB’s PACKS, is a mixture of their nicknames, P and Ab = PAB.
When Pia was in the hospital, she said she saw a boy with cancer whose hospital room was empty. Pia felt very bad for this boy because she had “Seven blankets, five stuffed animals, and a plethora of people” in her room. So she gave the boy a bag full of blankets, colored pencils, and other things she loved. His face lit up.
Abbie said that when she was in the hospital, she sort of isolated herself. She would turn people away when they offered her activities. Now that she’s the one at the door, she understands the feelings on both sides of the exchange on a much deeper level.
Since 2015, PAB’S has provided nearly 3,000 backpacks filled with comfort items to teenagers with a chronic diagnosis or repeat hospital visits. PAB’S designed its own backpacks, water bottles, canvas pouches, and a stuffed penguin named Pabby (of course!) to go in the backpacks. (You can also buy these items online to support the cause.)
Over the summer, my brother and I got to help pack some PAB’S packs. The part that takes the longest is the notes. Every single pack comes with a handwritten note with happy messages on it and personal questions (ex.: What’s your favorite sport?) that the recipient can talk about. Abbie and Pia say that even though the notes are the hardest part, they are also the most meaningful.
In addition to the packs that they are making, PAB’S is now working to create a network for these teens to get to know each other. That way, they may be able to find comfort with other teens who are going through similar things.
Their advice for kids and teens who wants to do something that has an impact, like PAB’S: Don’t stop. This stuff takes time.
And now, you can get involved with PAB’S! With Abbie and Pia going away to college next year, they are starting a Teen Ambassador Board. So, if you will be in 10th, 11th, or 12th grade in the 2018-19 school year, you live in the Twin Cities area, and you want to give back to your community, this is perfect for you. You will get better with your skills such as public speaking, teamwork, and organization. The members of the Teen Board will attend monthly meetings and other PAB’S PACKS events. They will also create and carry out activities and programming. Apply here, by April 1.