Palmer Trinity School junior Karina Schiappa Pietra remembers those terrible days her brother Anthony spent in the hospital when he was being treated for Non- Hodgkin’s T Cell lymphoma.
“My brother had aggressive chemo and sometimes he had to stay at the hospital for a week,” she says. “He spent weeks in the hospital and he was bored.”
Her brother’s cancer is in remission today and he has recovered enough to go away to college – to Harvard.
Schiappa Pietra says that period in her life affected her so much that she decided to help kids like her brother when she developed her Girl Scout Gold Award project.
“I donated five portable DVD players to the Miami Children’s Hospital Oncology Unit and a library of DVDs that could be checked out by patients and visitors,” she says. “Having a DVD player and DVDs was a way to entertain the children and the in-and-out patients. They could sit there and watch DVD’s while they get chemo.”
The whole project took about a year to develop, from the time she first evolved the project concept to the actual delivery of the DVD players and DVDs.
“When going for my gold award, I thought what can I do to make these kids a little happier? I figured it out for the most part on my own,” she says. “This project is supposed to reflect upon you. Working with the hospital was something that really connected and would really motivate me.”
To pay for the project, Schiappa Pietra organized a garage sale. She collected items through a drive at Palmer Trinity and from her friends and family.
“I made enough money to cover the cost of the DVD players,” she says. “For the DVDs, I set up a DVD drive and we received about 200 titles.”
The DVDs covered a broad range of titles and ages. Schiappa Pietra says there are parents and older teens who might want to watch higher rated titles. The children won’t be exposed to movies they shouldn’t watch because there is a sign-in system. The collection has a large assortment of Disney movies.
Although that project has ended for Schiappa Pietra, she says they are always open to DVD donations. She says that she may even organize another DVD donation drive for the hospital before she leaves for college in the fall.
Schiappa Pietra’s project dovetails with that of her friend Renee Dobrinsky’s Gold Award project, which was to donate laptops for use by the children or their parents.
“I helped her raise money at a garage sale,” she says. “We actually had the garage sale together and we split the money raised evenly.”
Schiappa Pietra also helps kids every other Saturday as an English teacher for Breakthrough Miami.
“I teach four classes,” she says. “After lunch we have social hours and we talk about how to act when you’re in a fight or a confrontation. Most of these kids came from a hard life.”
Schiappa Pietra is also a member of Operation Smile, an organization that raises money to do reconstructive surgery for kids with cleft lips.
Schiappa Pietra also regularly joins with other members of a school club to visit a shelter run by the Community Partnership for the Homeless, and she assists in the club’s efforts to raise money to help the homeless.