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Banding together for kids

More than all the beribboned nuggets of gold, silver and bronze stacked in her bedroom, Kimmie Meissner is proudest of the band of red, white and blue that envelops her slender wrist.

It symbolizes her commitment to the memory of a friend who died of cancer and the realization that she can do more with the sudden fame of her figure skating career than attend ribbon cuttings and show up at banquets.

The plastic bracelet has the words "Cool Kids" on one side and "Triumph" on the other.

Meissner, the world champion and Olympian from Bel Air, fills in the message between the two.

"I wanted to help the pediatric oncology patients at Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland. The kids need to have fun days. They need to know that after the hard days there can be a goody bag or a cake or a movie or even going skating," she says, her usually sunny face solemn.

The bracelets are part of a fundraiser by the Belanger Federico Pitterich Foundation, organizers of the Cool Kids Campaign that will begin tomorrow. The bands will be on sale from July 15 through the summer.

Already, the 185 Subway sandwich shops in the region have agreed to sell the bands for $2, and other local merchants are expected to sign up. An initial order of 10,000 bracelets has been bolstered by an order for 20,000 more.

Last winter, the foundation was looking for a way to launch its campaign and get its name out, just as Meissner's skating was starting to soar with her silver-medal performance at the U.S. championships.

"Kimmie Meissner was our top choice," says Sharon Perfetti, the foundation's director of programs and development. "She's a fresh face, she's so well-respected and she's a kid."

Between the skater's sixth-place finish at the Olympics in February and her appearance at the world championships, Perfetti wrote to Meissner's parents, asking for her assistance.

The next day, Meissner won the world championship.

"I said, 'Uh-oh, everybody's going to want her now,'" Perfetti recalls.

But instead, Judy Meissner got in touch. When they met, campaign organizers explained how they wanted to ensure that each child arriving for in-patient treatment would receive a "Cool Kids Care Package," consisting of a Game Boy or iPod, pajamas, journals and art supplies.

"She jumped in full force," Perfetti says.

On the teenager's mind was Kati Fisher, a Glen Burnie girl her own age who died in March 2004. The two became fast friends as Meissner rocketed up the figure skating pecking order and Fisher fought to remain healthy enough to run this year's Rock 'n' Roll Marathon in San Diego.

On June 4, Fisher's father kept his promise and ran for her. Richard Fisher, Bib No. 12223, crossed the line at just more than 4 1/2 hours, 5,862nd out of 17,339 finishers.

The skater was determined to do something, too.

"She saw what Kati went through and realized that it's the little things that make them happy," says Judy Meissner.

The Cool Kids Campaign was a perfect match, but what could Meissner do? She quickly settled on the type of fundraising bracelets made famous by Lance Armstrong.

"I wanted something for everybody," she says. "Bracelets can be for boys, for girls, for adults, for sick kids and healthy kids."

Meissner sketched about 15 designs before choosing the patriotic theme and the word "Triumph."

"I tried other things like, 'Beat the Odds.' But I like the word. It's encouraging. It applies to everyone," she says. "Everyone has a personal challenge to overcome."

Tomorrow's event at the ESPN Zone will include former Oriole Ken Singleton as master of ceremonies and an autograph session with Meissner from 10:15 to 11:15 a.m. Afterward, she will serve lunch to the young patients in the Johns Hopkins Hospital oncology ward.

"The best thing about winning worlds is that I can help people," she says. "I'm not out there yet in fame, but in my state and in my town - my peeps - maybe I can make a difference."

candy.thomson@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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