Baltimore Sun’s BEST party in 2 weeks

From big hearts to full bellies

The Baltimore Sun

The 15 teenagers -- dressed in black T-shirts and white aprons -- hurried around Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Churchville, preparing for about 120 dinner guests.

Some of the girls placed dishes filled with condiments on tables that were adorned with royal blue and yellow decorations, while others checked the seating chart.

At 5:30 p.m., guests were seated, and the waitresses began to serve.

"I'm hoping that this experience brings to the forefront others who are less fortunate," said Sue Lebuhn, 45, of Churchville, who helped coordinate the dinner. "It helps build the girls' communication skills and it teaches them about being a waitress. At the same time, it helps them make a difference."

Lebuhn was referring to a "restaurant" that members of Girl Scout Troop 2130 opened for the evening, which raised $2,000 for children with cancer.

Called Cool Kids Cafe, the fundraiser is one of several initiatives to raise money for the Cool Kids Campaign, a nonprofit program started in Cockeysville in 2006 to improve the quality of life for pediatric oncology patients and their families. Cool Kids Campaign is a division of the Belanger-Federico Foundation.

Last year, Cool Kids raised $450,000. So far this year, Cool Kids has raised more than $100,000, said Sharon Perfetti, executive director and co-founder of the Cool Kids Campaign.

The idea to start the Cool Kids Cafe originated with Chris Gavin, a teenager from Carroll County. He started a similar program that he called Kids Kitchen in his Westminster neighborhood. It was a fundraising hit, Perfetti said.

"We were looking for ways that kids could help kids," Perfetti said. "When we heard what Chris had done, we asked him if we could keep doing the fundraiser, and he agreed."

Money raised through the cafe will be donated to the Cool Kids Campaign.

Using "Shoot for the Stars" as the theme, the Girl Scouts, who held their first cafe last year, began planning the event in January. They called local businesses to find sponsors and went door to door selling invitations to their cafe. They planned the menu and made the decorations, which included star napkin holders -- made out of cardboard and paper -- and star centerpieces.

The menu for the evening -- all of the items were donated -- included baked ziti, chicken, tossed salad and garlic bread. Homemade pasta sauce, made by the teens, was placed on each table. The cost of the meal was $7 for children, and $10 for adults.

For dessert, the girls held a bake sale, where cookies, cupcakes, cakes and chocolates were sold.

Patti Neenan, a guest at the dinner, said she enjoyed the ambience and the food, but she was most impressed with the fact that the girls did the work.

"Often, when children sign up to do a fundraiser, the adults do all the work ... but in this case, the girls did most of the work," said Neenan, a Churchville stay-at-home mother. "I think that all kids need to be out there in the community. Kids are so focused on themselves these days that they need to be out there helping others."

Throughout the evening, the girls worked as waitresses, cooks and hostesses. They served about 100 people.

It was a lot of work, but it was worth it, said Kelsey Lebuhn, 13, of Churchville, who worked as a waitress and cook.

"This is a great way to help people who are less fortunate than you," said Lebuhn, an eighth-grader at Trinity Lutheran School in Joppa. "It helped me learn to be more organized and how to plan better."

The project took about 60 hours of planning, said Lauren Cook, 14, of Abingdon. Despite a busy schedule, she said she found the time.

"The key is to make time for it," said Cook, an eighth-grader at Trinity Lutheran. "We all need to make time to help people. It's an honor to help kids with cancer. People don't realize how much trouble they have. It's the least we can do."

Working on the project helped Melanie Cooke, 13, of Bel Air put things in perspective, she said.

"Everyone has problems of some sort," said Cooke, an eighth-grader at Southampton Middle School. "Kids with cancer are dealt a bad hand, and they can't do anything about it."

Chloe Mermagen said she felt empowered to help kids who can't help themselves.

"Something as little as putting a dinner together can help save lives," said Mermagen, 13, of Havre de Grace, who worked as a waitress for the evening.

In addition to the Cool Kids Cafe fundraisers, the Cool Kids Campaign kicked off three new programs recently -- Cancer Fears Me, Designated Patient Fundraising and the Cool Kids Family Support Fund.

Through the Cancer Fears Me program, participants sell merchandise with a Cancer Fears Me logo, Perfetti said.

Cancer is scary for a family, Perfetti said, "but it's even scarier for the child who has it." The merchandise includes T-shirts, bags and caps.

Through the Designated Patient Fundraising program, participants can raise money for a specific person, including themselves. To participate, the patient or a family member fills out a verification form that he or she is a current patient, and it is signed by authorized personnel at the patient's hospital.

Each patient is registered with Cool Kids and assigned a patient number. Then friends, family or other groups sell the Cancer Fears Me gear, of which 25 percent of the sales will go directly to the designated patient.

Another program, called the Cool Kids Family Support Fund, was created to help pay bills for families experiencing financial hardship because of a child's health problems, Perfetti said.

"Cancer causes a financial burden on many families," Perfetti said. "We wanted to do something to help with this, so that the family can concentrate on helping the person with cancer."

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