We have all heard the cliche many times: “It only takes one person to change the world.” And although that may sound unrealistic and unattainable to many people, it really does happen sometimes. And when it does, it’s usually something pretty special.
In this case it took just two young siblings to change the world for the better, and it has definitely become something special and memorable.
How it all got started
Tyler and Monica Slaven of DeGraff started a small toy drive four years ago. After a lot of hard work and help from family, friends and fellow students, it has now snowballed into an incredible statewide record-setting campaign that collected more than 9,000 toys this Christmas. Cameras rolled from NBC4 TV in Columbus as the brother/sister duo dropped off a large U-Haul truckload of toys in front of Nationwide Children’s Hospital of Columbus last week. It took a crew of hospital employees to wheel all the boxes of toys into the hospital.
“Four years ago my sister Monica was a senior and I was a freshman at Ohio Virtual Academy, which is Ohio’s largest online public school,” said Tyler Slaven. “That was a very special year for us both because it was our first and last year together in high school. We wanted to do something that would make an important difference as well as something that we both could work together on as a team. After giving it a lot of thought, we decided we wanted to put smiles on as many children’s faces that were in the hospital during Christmas as we could.”
Both Tyler and Monica were inspired by real life examples of how Nationwide Children’s Hospital made a big difference in someone’s life.
“At the time, our high school foreign language teacher actually had adopted a little guy named Sawyer,” said Tyler. “He has some special needs, but Nationwide Children’s Hospital had been, and still is, very involved in making sure his needs are met.”
“We also know someone that shared with us a story back from her childhood,” Tyler said. “She had spent time up in the hospital during Christmas as a child. And to this day she said she remembers it like it was yesterday.””
“On Christmas morning, Santa Claus went from room to room to visit and talk with the kids, as well as give them a Christmas present. Getting to see Santa and receiving a present completely took your mind off of being in a hospital on Christmas,” she told Monica and Tyler.
So, the Slavens set out on their own to start a toy drive. It was really uncharted territory for the brave and giving duo. They went out, hit the pavement and asked local stores and businesses if they could put a box in their stores so people could donate by dropping a new toy in the box.
“After going door-to-door to businesses in community after community, we found many of them were able to personally connect with how much it truly means to help these kids out,” Tyler said. “For some of the business owners and independent individuals who helped, this can be a pretty rough time of the year, not only with the holiday rush but also with financial hardships. However, business after business, person after person, jumped on board to help be a part of this. The joy and meaning of Christmas, the smiles, the efforts and impact as a community, it all truly starts and spreads from the beginning all the way until the last smile from each child at the hospital when they wake up on Christmas morning and open those presents.”
Child inspired to make a difference
The sole fact of knowing how many smiling faces there would be at Children’s Hospital was enough reward for Tyler and his group to carry on the campaign drive.
“One story that sticks out in my mind is when we had one of our Santa Day events at Koenig Equipment a few weeks ago.” Tyler said. “Santa, his elves, and Mrs. Claus were all there. We had a small donation jar out on the table where people signed in at. As each family signed in, I explained to them about our efforts to reach the kids that won’t get to spend Christmas at home with their families.
“Well, a little girl, probably about 6 years old, must have been listening. A little while after getting signed in and taking some pictures with Santa, the family started to head out the front door, Tyler said. “Well, the little girl started to walk out, but then turned around and walked back over to the table where I was. She reached into her pocket and looked up at me and said, ‘I want you to have all of my money so the kids in the hospital can have toys, too.’ I leaned down and told her that she doesn’t have to do that, but she insisted the kids needed it more. Perhaps only a few dollars, but the true kindness was much greater.”
Many people are unaware how much a small toy or gift can mean to a child away from family and who will not wake up at home on Christmas morning.
“If each of us could just see these kids in the hospital, we all would realize how much of a difference can be made. Not a single child in any hospital would wake up on Christmas morning without at least cracking a little smile,” Tyler said.
In 2017, the Slavens’ Toy Drive collected an incredible 3,000 toys. For 2018, Tyler set a challenging goal to double that effort. His official goal was 6,000 toys.
“To our surprise we not only reached our goal of 6,000 toys, but actually more than tripled the amount we collected last year,” said Tyler, noting a total of 9,224 toys were collected this year. “When we dropped off the toys at the hospital, the representative at Nationwide Children’s said that was the largest toy donation in the history of the hospital.”
For an 18-year-old high school senior, Tyler has an extraordinarily busy schedule, juggling the toy drive with many other responsibilities. He will graduate this June from both high school and simultaneously from the University of Northwestern Ohio with an associate’s degree in agribusiness. He also works full-time at Koenig Equipment, where he previously served as an intern. He plans on earning a bachelor’s degree in agribusiness in the near future. He is student council president, president of the National Honor Society and serves as president of the Ohio Virtual Academy Agricultural Society. He wants everyone to know that even though he is graduating, “That doesn’t mean our efforts of doing a toy drive for the kids fifth annual toy drive next year by Nov. 1, 2019. We will have boxes at many of the same drop-off locations again next year.”
Tyler and his crew are appreciative of all the donors and everyone who helped out.
“I just want to say thank you so much to everyone, all of the businesses, individuals, and anonymous donors that have helped to reach all of these kids this Christmas,” Tyler said. “You truly are touching many lives.”
Not too late to donate
If you missed out on making a donation into one of the boxes at any of the Slaven toy donation locations, it’s not too late to jump on board.
“We set up a donation link this year to help reach as many people as we could to gather funds to purchase toys for the kids. This link will remain open 365 days a year if you would like to make a donation at any time,” Tyler said. “I just want to say thank you to everyone once more and I want to wish a safe, blessed, happy new year.”
Donations can be made via PayPal using either the link https://tinyurl.com/ybalnwxw.
Ron Brohm is a regular contributor to AIM Media Midwest.