Thursday, December 13th, 2012
By Amy Kronenberger
Celina teens brighten kids' hospital stays
Students find giving toys brings Christmas joy
  CELINA - A group of Celina High School students packed nearly 1,300 new toys in a school bus and van Tuesday afternoon.
The students and donated gifts were headed to Dayton Children's Hospital.
"It's just amazing to make someone smile at Christmas, and that's what we're doing," junior Jack Hinders said as he waited to board the bus.
High school English teacher Alicia Sneddon and her students each year organize a toy drive for the long-term care unit at the hospital. Her 50-some students this year collected 1,292 toys, far exceeding their goal of 500.
Sneddon began the tradition when she was in college after finding a wish-list on the hospital's website. She offered on Facebook to take any donated toys to the children.
"My mom and I had to drive to Dayton with an open trunk and a full back seat that year," she said. "Random strangers ... were dropping toys off at my mom's house. When we gave the toys to the nurses ... they cried tears of joy. It was one of the most fulfilling moments of my life."
When Sneddon, 25, became a teacher three years ago, she passed the project to her students.
"My creative writing classes learn about the different ways to persuade, and then I set them loose organizing," she said.
Sneddon runs a contest to see which class brings in the highest percentage of toys. The winner is rewarded with food on the last day of school before Christmas vacation.
Hinders said it began as a contest but ended as "who cares who wins, let's just raise toys."
The students collected new toys and donations to buy toys through making announcements at school, hanging flyers around the community, advertising on social media and placing collection boxes at area businesses.
"It was really eye-opening," said sophomore Hannah Fiely, who first participated in the drive last year. "I was really excited when she (Sneddon) said she was doing it again this year ... I just really like helping out others at Christmas time."
Sophomore Tori McCarter, who contributed 39 toys, said she just wanted to do this for the kids.
"Seeing what they go through - it's hard on them, and this helps them take their minds off things," she said.
When junior Camille Smith and her best friend were picking out toys at Walmart they knew they didn't want to choose a lot of small, meaningless items.
"We thought 'what would I want if I was little and in the hospital?' " she said. "We didn't focus on the number of toys we bought ... but the quality."
The girls picked out Barbie sets, superhero costumes, large toy trucks and remote control toys.
Sneddon initially looked to help Dayton Children's because she spent time there at age 5 when she was diagnosed with a Wilms Tumor.
"I spent my birthday, Dec. 21, in Dayton Children's," she said. "The staff at Children's goes out of their way to make sure the kids have things to do and toys to play with. They gave small gifts for getting shots, and I got a Cabbage Patch Doll on my birthday."
She said one of the nurses also helped her make a picture frame out of popsicle sticks, which still hangs on her Christmas tree every year.
Sneddon's drive has grown each year, and although she has not kept track of how many toys have been donated, she said the toy storage has spread from her classroom into the school office, other classrooms and several businesses. Teachers Renee Kramer and Lisa Brunswick also now help with the project.
"This year I practically have kids knocking down my door to see of there is room on the bus," she said. "If we could afford two buses, we could fill them."
After visiting the hospital, the students went out to eat and ice skated. The Celina High Academic and Motivational Promoters group pays for the ice skating; the kids are responsible for their meals.
"It is an incredible trip that has become the highlight of my Christmas season," Sneddon said. "It really shows me each year how generous people can be and how wonderful a community and school district we have."
For students such as Hinders, who supplied $500 in toys, the trip is an important part of school and life.
"School teaches us all the basics - reading, math and other things - but sometimes there are outstanding moments, and this is one of those moments," he said.
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