Emily Nelson and Gavin Jacobs were such close friends that the two children considered themselves cousins. That's why it hit Emily so hard when Gavin died of cancer at age 8 in August 2010.
But Emily, now 10, has not forgotten Gavin, and Gavin would be proud to see what Emily has been doing for the past year — raising money for cancer research. She has already raised about $200 in a bake sale to donate to Johns Hopkins University. She also makes sandwiches on Saturdays for homeless people in Baltimore City.
And she said she has no plans to stop.
On Sunday, Dec. 2, Emily will raise her profile when she rides on a float as Junior Miss Yuletide in the 40th annual Hampden Mayor's Christmas Parade.
The parade is set to run from 1 to 4 p.m., starting at the Poly-Western high schools complex on Falls Road, marching along Falls Road and The Avenue (West 36th Street), and ending in time for the start of the Baltimore Ravens football game.
Emily's mother, Lacey Nelson, said her daughter is excited to be riding on a float, joined by Miss Yuletide Jaimie Adelsberger, 17, a senior at Mercy High School. And she has family and friends coming from Anne Arundel County to watch the parade and her in it.
But for Emily, a fifth-grader at Hampden Elementary/Middle School, it's more than that.
"It seems like a good opportunity to help me raise more money," she said Wednesday, already wearing her Junior Miss Yuletide sash.
"It's a very big deal for her," Emily's mom said. "I think she wants to use the title (of Junior Miss Yuletide) to do stuff the following year. It's her thing. We're working on a website."
Emily's inspiration was Gavin, who attended St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic School in Hampden and was the son of Jennifer Jacobs, a close friend of Emily's family.
"Ever since Gavin was diagnosed, she saw the struggle (his family) went through and how financially tough it was for them," Lacey Jacobs said. "And he always considered him her cousin."
Joining Emily in the parade will be Adelsberger as Miss Yuletide. Adelsberger lives in Kingsville, in northern Baltimore County, far removed from Hampden in north Baltimore. But Adelsberger said her late grandfather lived in Hampden and her late uncle played Santa in the parade, which was a favorite tradition of her favorite holiday.
"I love Christmastime and I always wanted to be in the parade," Adelsberger said.
Parade's future in doubt
She said ominously that it was especially important this year, because, "It might be the last year of the parade."
As the Baltimore Messenger reported last year, this is expected to be Tom Kerr's final year as parade organizer after 40 years.
"I'm 70. That's too old," Kerr said Nov. 21. But he is worried the parade will fade away if no one steps up to take over as organizer. He said he will meet with the Hampden Village Merchants Association in January 2013 to broach the subject of his impending departure and will ask formally for a successor.
But Kerr said he has talked privately with merchants, who so far aren't keen on taking over what has been a hard fundraising and organizing job with ever-rising costs for everything from giant helium balloons to payments for out-of-town marching bands.
"They've see what I've done and they don't want to do it," he said. "We'll see what happens."
Kerr has good reason to be concerned, said Benn Ray, president of the merchants' association — a group Kerr headed 40 years ago, when it was known as the Businessmen's Association.
"Nobody's stepping forward, so it might be the end of the parade, which would be a sad thing," Ray said.
But Ray said he and the merchants' association aren't eager to take over the parade.
"From my perspective, that would be a massive undertaking," Ray said. "It's all we can do to get Hampdenfest off the ground" in the fall. "Hopefully, somebody will step forward."
But for now, Jennifer Jacobs, the mother of the late Gavin Jacobs, is happy to have a home parade to watch. She's seen all but one in her 35 years, and the one she missed was the year Gavin got sick.
Jacobs is proud that Gavin is being remembered through Emily, the Junior Miss Yuletide.
"You think people forget about your child, but he may as well have been president. Everyone loved him."
And she added, "He was lucky to have Emily in his life. She's an amazing child."