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