CHARLOTTE – Mara Campolungo felt called to honor the legacy of her late brother, a doctor who worked tirelessly to help everyone he met.
Campolungo and her husband, Neil, decided to adopt a family at Levine’s Children’s Hospital. But when Campolungo visited the hospital, she learned a sobering truth.
“I don’t want your teddy bears,” a tired mother told her.
Stunned, Campolungo asked what her family actually needed. The answer proved to be as simple as picking up lotion and household supplies at Walmart.
“This woman taught me how to be an executive director,” Campolungo said. “ And while I didn’t know that, what I realize was that I was going to start using my gifts and talents in a different way.”
This experience evolved into what is now known as The Sandbox, a charity that helps families cope with their children’s life-changing illnesses. At the charity’s core is CARRE – Caring About Real Relationships Empathetically.
Campolungo believes anyone can use their gifts and talents to impact the world, or at the very least, their community.
Jacinda Jacobs learned about The Sandbox at a time in her life when she questioned her calling. A television reporter at the time, Jacobs wanted to focus on stories that were meaningful. She met Campolungo through her work.
Jacobs has since struck out on her own as an author, public speaker and loyal volunteer at The Sandbox. She recently talked about meeting one special girl at The Sandbox that changed her life. Her name was Abby Wright.
Abby, who is now 18, was diagnosed in utero with a rare form of dwarfism. Doctors didn’t think she’d live past 3.
Jacobs was inspired to see a young girl go through so much, yet smile through it all and want to help other children.
“Her family still has so much love and compassion to serve other people,” Jacobs said. “It just rearranges your life to what’s important and what matters.”
Abby became a youth mentor at The Sandbox. She’s also helped with marketing, selling raffle tickets and serving as an ambassador for the charity that has helped her through the years.
“She gives in a way that is authentic to her,” Campolungo said. “We take our workshop anywhere and everywhere where people will hear our message, and I’m grateful because Abby has given her life and service to The Sandbox.”
Independence High School student Caroline Backus is another example of someone using her gifts to influence the community despite medical hardship.
Backus received the Dr. Timothy J Nugent NWBA High School Academic-All American Honorable Mention for her role with the Charlotte Rollin’ Hornets wheelchair basketball team. She also surfs, water-skis and runs track.
“She happens to have cerebral palsy but she doesn’t’ realize it,” Campolungo quipped.
Not only that, but she mentors children at The Sandbox.
“I wanted to be a youth mentor because I got to experience fun,” Backus said, noting how she went on trips to the beach and became friends with her mentors. “I want to be able to create that bond with another family and help them out and always be there for them.”
Campolungo met the Kelsin family around Christmas more than five years ago, when Grace was brought home from the hospital. Grace was diagnosed with a heart condition that requires a lot of surgery and physical therapy.
“The medical odds have been constantly against Grace, but their family’s faith, Grace’s tenacity and their love has overcome so much,” Campolungo said. “Amidst all of this, this family uses their gifts and talents of unconditional love, compassion and empathy and they serve on The Sandbox as the family liaison to our families.”
The Kelsins attended Charlotte Media Group’s Women@Work Luncheon in May, which benefited The Sandbox.
During the luncheon, the charity’s volunteers asked attendees to brainstorm ways in which they could give back to this family. After five minutes, tables generated more than a dozen ways in which they could help the family, ranging from providing free babysitting to taking Grace’s sister, Wisdom, on a girl’s day out.
The exercise was designed to show everyone how easy it is to “give where you live.”