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Emily’s Wagon rolls on

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The legacy of a young softball player continues to brighten the lives of pediatric patients and families.

By Craig Worrell, Sports Editor

HILLSVILLE -- Living our daily lives and going about dealing with our daily challenges, it’s not terribly difficult to let slip from our minds one of the most powerful and most meaningful characteristics of the mountain community. In communities like this, if you don’t know someone, you know someone who does. And in communities like this, when one stumbles, a thousand hands are extended. It is made manifest in many forms, from how we handle life to how we handle the end of life. It is in the form of bean suppers and benefit dinners. In auctions and fundraisers. And in softball tournaments and a wagon capable of carrying truckloads of stuff and still having room for the spirit of a little girl. The daughter of John and Malinda Beamer and a promising young softball player, 11-year-old Emily Beamer of Hillsville lost her battle with a brain tumor a year ago next week, but her wagon is rolling right along, picking up steam, brightening the days of children faced with a battle that none should have to fight. The wagon will gain some cargo on June 19 with the Emily Beamer Memorial Softball Tournament, a girls’ fast-pitch tourney for ages 8-10 and 10-12 to be held at the Carroll County Recreation Department fields.  Proceeds from the tournament will benefit Emily’s Wagon, which provides DVDs, books, school supplies, art supplies, gift cards and more to pediatric patients and their families. Emily’s Wagon began as a way to honor her memory, and took its form from the little wagons used to carry young patients at the expansive Duke University Medical Center and its Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center. What goes into the wagon comes from the Beamers’ experiences while at Duke. “When Emily was in the hospital we had some long stays and they would always try to do something for the kids to make it as good as it could be, for what they were there for,” said Malinda. “They would come around and bring them some kind of arts and crafts for them to do in the room, because a lot of the time Emily was too sick to go do anything. To do something in Emily’s memory we decided to do Emily’s Wagon, which was to collect art and craft supplies.” The wagon is more than just a symbol for a cause. “[Malinda] donated the wagon and it’s got a nice little plaque on the side with Emily’s name,” said Nancy Butters, Child Life Specialist for the family support program at Duke. “In the morning [social worker] Ginny [Calhoun] and I will get together and see who we are to visit that day, and just fill the wagon with different activities especially for the kids we’ll see that day. And all of the things come from your community, which is pretty special.” What was important to the Beamers was making Emily feel normal at times when nothing in her world was normal. “She loved to have fun and do kid things,” said Butters. “One of the things she liked to do was arts and crafts, so we tried to take her things that we could sit with her and do a little craft, or paint, just sit and be a normal kid. Malinda decided that was awfully important to her and she wanted to develop something that would be a legacy of Emily’s.” The response has been overwhelming in its first year. It’s not unusual for a family or individual to make a donation in memory of a loved one, but none match the impact made by Emily Beamer’s time at Duke. “The fire code in our office is probably violated because we have things piled up to the ceiling with all kinds of things that kids might enjoy,” said Butters. “I don’t know how many carloads of things Malinda has brought to us. It’s been extraordinary for us. The medical side gets a lot of money for their research, but we don’t often get money for family support things. So Emily’s legacy has made such a difference.” And not just at Duke Medical Center. The Beamers have also taken supplies to Roanoke Memorial and to the Joan and Howard Woltz Hospice Home in Dobson, N.C. And the impact reaches beyond the bedside. Supplies from Emily’s Wagon also go to an on-site school at Duke where young patients are able to continue with their assignments while receiving treatment. As a seventh-grader at Woodlawn School during her illness, Emily was able to keep up with her classmates while hospitalized. “It was probably the only normal thing she did,” Malinda said. “Not that she wanted to do schoolwork, but it allowed her to keep up with her class. Woodlawn would send the work down and she would keep up with her classmates the whole time she was there.” Emily’s first day of chemotherapy happened to fall on her birthday, and the nurses on her floor brought her a Build-A-Bear that had been donated. Malinda said it amazed Emily that someone she didn’t even know would do that for her. (It is asked that donated items be new because of the risk of infection to chemotherapy patients.) “It just brightens their day, and for a little while they’re just a kid again,” Malinda said. “They’re not sick and they’re not getting treatment, they’re just a normal kid for a little while. “Hopefully we can make a kid feel special for a little while, like Emily did. Our community really stood with us and they still do. They’re still supporting this. It’s amazing. I went to the [Carroll] Wellness Center and they said they had some stuff, and they had a truckload that I brought back, from Girl Scout troops to people at work to people at church, everybody.” “It’s a testament to your community,” Butters said. “A lot of times we’ll have families where their immediate family might donate, but it seems like your whole community is involved. “It’s really special how much people care about this.” Volunteers for the tournament are needed in the form of umpires, concession workers, gate workers, etc. To volunteer or to make a donation, contact the Carroll County Recreation Department at (276) 730-3191.