think­ing out­side the crayon box, girl bright­ens lives of ill chil­dren

Austin American-Statesman - - METRO & STATE - By melissa B. Taboada

CEDAR PARK — When Bri­anna Vo­gel was 5, she sat for hours at an out­pa­tient clinic with her younger brother, Devon, as he got an in­fu­sion of im­munoglob­u­lon to treat his im­mune dis­or­der.

Bri­anna, now 10, said she wished there was some­thing she could do to bet­ter pass the time and dis­tract her and her brother from the treat­ments, es­pe­cially when she re­al­ized that all the other ill chil­dren and their sib­lings had sim­i­lar needs.

So Bri­anna started small, us­ing pocket change from friends and ask­ing for art do­na­tions for her birth­day (which she still does) to col­lect crayons, draw­ing paper, col­or­ing books and as­sorted art sup­plies that she do­nated to the old Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal of Austin. As she grew, so did her vi­sion, and at 7, she es­tab­lished Bri­anna’s Pen­nies of Love as a non­profit to pro­vide arts and crafts sup­plies to hos­pi­tals and clin­ics car­ing for chil­dren.

Most of her ef­forts are di­rected at Dell Chil-

‘In­stead of think­ing, “They’re bat­tling this hor­ri­ble dis­ease, and they’re stuck here,” (Bri­anna’s) think­ing how to make it bet­ter. She gets the big pic­ture.’

Mary Frasher

Chil­dren’s Blood and Can­cer Cen­ter

dren’s Med­i­cal Cen­ter, the Chil­dren’s Blood and Can­cer Cen­ter and St. David’s Theo vans, which pro­vide den­tal work for low-in­come chil­dren. Dur­ing the trips with her brother, Bri­anna has worked with some of the chil­dren to cre­ate pet rocks, sun catch­ers and painted ce­ram­ics.

“I’ve found that art al­ways takes kids’ minds off of any trou­bles,” said Bri­anna, who will be­gin mid­dle school in the Le­an­der district in the fall.

When her brother had to be iso­lated and was un­able to go to the hos­pi­tal’s play­room,

Bri­anna re­al­ized the play­room needed to come to him and the other chil­dren in iso­la­tion. She now makes “iso­la­tion bags,” col­or­ful, re­us­able bags filled with pen­cils, mark­ers, col­or­ing books, read­ing ma­te­ri­als and other good­ies.

“It’s com­pletely self­less and thought­ful,” said Mary Frasher, art co­or­di­na­tor for the Chil­dren’s Blood and Can­cer Cen­ter. “In­stead of think­ing, ‘They’re bat­tling this hor­ri­ble dis­ease, and they’re stuck here,’ she’s think­ing how to make it bet­ter. She gets the big pic­ture.”

Bri­anna does the shop­ping, be­ing par­tic­u­lar about her pur­chases: Only the tri­an­gu­lar crayons will do, she said, so they don’t roll off the hos­pi­tal tray as many of the chil­dren have limited mo­bil­ity.

She or­ga­nizes the bags by age cat­e­gories, care­ful not to put cer­tain items — such as rulers that can be used as swords — in the bags of younger chil­dren. And af­ter meet­ing one boy who lost the ma­jor­ity of his sight be­cause of a brain tu­mor, Bri­anna chooses art that has tex­ture to it, “things he could do that make it fun for him,” she said.

“She shows a lot of com­pas­sion and heart for other kids,” said Bri­anna’s mom, Tami Vo­gel.

Bri­anna has spo­ken at Ro­tary clubs and churches, telling peo­ple about Pen­nies of Love and how to help. On a re­cent visit to a North­west Austin church youth group, Bri­anna ex­plained her mis­sion. When she be­gan talk­ing about her brother and how close he has come to death, she buried her head in her mom’s chest and cried.

“This is real. This is what it’s all about,” Tami Vo­gel said.

Bri­anna loves her 8-year-old brother, Devon, who has com­mon vari­able im­mune de­fi­ciency, which leaves him with an in­creased sus­cep­ti­bil­ity to in­fec­tions. But they also have typ­i­cal sib­ling squab­bles. Devon end­lessly teases her. He jumped in her path as she walked and in­ter­rupted her as she spoke re­cently with a re­porter.

“Do I have to hug him?” she asked dur­ing a re­cent visit with a pho­tog­ra­pher.

More than five years into her mis­sion, she rou­tinely asks the hos­pi­tals for their wish lists and brings in van­loads of sup­plies. She helps host events at med­i­cal cen­ters and takes time to craft with chil­dren in treat­ment.

“It’s amaz­ing what she does,” said Ashley Gil­bert, spe­cial event co­or­di­na­tor for Dell Chil­dren’s Med­i­cal Cen­ter. “It works so well for us. The most im­por­tant goal is to nor­mal­ize this en­vi­ron­ment so it is kid­friendly.”

Laura skeld­ing AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

Bri­anna Vo­gel, 10, got the idea of col­lect­ing arts and crafts sup­plies for sick chil­dren af­ter trips to a clinic with her brother, Devon, 8.

laura Skeld­ing pho­tos AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

Bri­anna Vo­gel started the non­profit Bri­anna’s Pen­nies of Love at age 7 and still asks for art do­na­tions for her birth­day (which is com­ing up next week). Shelves at her home in Cedar Park are filled with sup­plies that will be de­liv­ered to sick chil­dren.

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