Dealing with the death of someone close to our heart is one of life’s most difficult burdens to overcome. But Abigail Choiniere, 17, a senior at Warwick Veterans High School, has turned the pain of losing her stepsister to cancer into something positive, as she plans to study pediatric oncology in college.
She’s also collecting toys to benefit The Tomorrow Fund, a non-profit organization founded in 1985 by doctors, child life specialists and parents of children with cancer to ease the financial and emotional challenges of cancer. Choiniere became an active member of the Fund this summer at a group event, where she got the opportunity to network with people and do what she enjoys most: help sick children.
She aims to collect as many small toys as possible for children undergoing treatment. Toys include but are not limited to: card games, Soduku puzzles, crossword puzzles and board games.
She said she selected theses types of toys for two reasons: they encourage the family to get together and enjoy one another instead of focusing on cancer, and they can help occupy children and parents during procedures.
Her former mentor, Kathleen Connolly, development director for the Tomorrow Fund, suggested the theme for the drive, and it “hit home” for Choiniere, as games brought her a sense of peace when her stepsister, Amy, who passed away at the untimely age of 12, was sick.
At the time, Abigail was 9.
“We loved board games – she loved monopoly,” said Abigail. “We would sit and play, and she’d love it.”
Connolly also encourages Abigail to attend and volunteer at Tomorrow Fund events, including the 11th annual Tomorrow Fund Stroll, which will take place at the Garden City Center April 28. But because the mentor block was established last year, Abigail and Connolly must solely communicate on the phone and via email for the remainder of the project.
While the new rules presented a few issues, as Abigail can no longer visit the clinic and Connolly can’t sit with Abigail or the 15 other students she mentors from throughout the state to watch informational videos and discuss other important topics, they are not letting it impact the project.
“She’s very energetic and committed to our cause,” Connolly said of Abigail. “She understands probably more than most people because of her personal experience.”
Before students were stopped from visiting with their mentors, Connolly was able to introduce Abigail to a few children along the way at The Tomorrow Fund Cancer Clinic, located within Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence. It is part of the Rhode Island Hospital Campus.
“One little girl wasn’t sure where to draw on a quilt, and I helped her pick a place and draw a cat,” said Abigail. “It was moving to see because she was telling me how much she loved her cat. She said her cat made her happy.”
For Abigail, being around children in this capacity is what makes her happy. While she misses Amy, Abigail said it helps her cope with the loss and motivates her to succeed.
“She’s been my inspiration through everything I’ve done,” said Abigail. “I want to be able to help people. I went through it with her, so I know the family side of it. I feel like I can have that connection with them more than most people would be able to.”
Sue Mello, Abigail’s mother, wasn’t surprised when she found out that Abigail decided to do the drive as her senior project. She praised her daughter’s efforts.
“She’s an amazing girl,” said Mello. “This is what she loves to do. She says, ‘If I can do it with Amy, I can do it with anybody.’ That’s what she tells me all the time. Taking care of people is what she’s going to do in life.”
Abigail, who works as a CNA at West Bay Retirement Living on West Shore Road, spends half the school week taking general education courses at Vets and the other half studying Health Occupations at the Warwick Area Career and Technical Center. She is also doing an internship at Kent Hospital through the Center for a few hours Tuesday through Friday.
The program and the internship are also teaching her a thing or two, as they are giving her hands-on experience working with patients. Also, in the first year-and-a half of the program, she earned a CNA license, a certification that comes in handy at Kent, as she often checks patients’ vital signs in the cardiology unit.
“They allow me to do the things I’ve been trained to,” Abigail said. “I love it. No matter what, you’re always moving. You’re not just sitting and relaxing.”
Abigail also recently participated in the nursing assistant portion of the SkillsUSA competition, a partnership of students, teachers and members of the industry who work together to ensure that America has a skilled workforce, and won first place among Rhode Island schools, and was 15th in the country.
These types of experiences are preparing her for college. She applied to the University of Rhode Island and Rhode Island College but has her heart set on RIC, as one of her former teachers is now employed there.
For now, she said the project is teaching her more about how children and their families cope with cancer on the health care side of the disease.
“When I become a nurse, I want to be able to make their day,” she said. “I feel this project is helping me achieve that.”
She’s also grateful for everything Connolly has done to guide her.
“She’s a great lady,” Abigail said. “She helped me a lot.”
Donations can be delivered to Allure Salon at 1171 Main Avenue. Mello owns and operates the salon. All donors will be given a special gift. For more information, call 935-5335. For more information about The Tomorrow Fund, visit www.tomorrowfund.org.