To bring awareness to breast cancer, the Dodd Middle School girls’ volleyball program has made a tradition of wearing pink shirts in the month of October. Last fall, players wanted to do something more widespread and found a way to support those battling the disease.
For a Take Action project, the team chose to make comfort bags to give to patients undergoing chemotherapy at Smilow Cancer Hospital, a part of the Yale New Haven Health system. At Smilow, patients can undergo surgery and oncology, as well as other forms of treatment and monitoring.
“It feels good to comfort other people,” said eighth grader Mary Margaret Nugent. “I can make a difference even though I don’t know the people I’m helping.”
Nugent’s mother Kiki contacted Smilow with the idea of making bags. Nugent’s father and Kiki’s husband Brian underwent treatment at the facility before he passed away from cancer in 2014.
“They were very kind and compassionate to us when we went there. It means a lot to help the next family going through the process,” explained Kiki Nugent.
With her mother Heather being a cancer survivor, volleyball player Kaelyn Fitzgerald also felt personally connected to the cause of supporting hospital patients.
“It was cool to give back to people who are dealing with what we went through,” explained Fitzgerald, a seventh grader.
The Dodd players put together 25 bags consisting of puzzle books, socks, gloves, playing cards, hand lotion, mini bottles of water, mints, and soap.
“We went to the store and picked up items over the counter,” said seventh grader Taylor Kozlowski.
“I was told that it isn’t so much about what is in the packages as it is to know that people are thinking of them (the patients),” added Kiki Nugent.
The volleyball team waited until winter break last year to finish packing the bags. Kiki Nugent, her daughter, and son Tim delivered them to Smilow Clinical Program Manager Paula Pike.
“She was beyond blown away,” reflected Kiki Nugent.
Along with the bags, the girls wore pink shirts at their home matches in October. The team paid to have shirts made by the Cheshire High School production department, which also created apparel for the CHS Girls’ Volleyball Team’s Play 4 The Cure Match last year.
“They look good,” said eighth grader Stella Tessier. “I like the design and color.”
Playing volleyball at Dodd, the girls felt that they learned about friendship and hard work.
“I was a little nervous (about joining the team) at first, but I had a lot of fun,” recalled Fitzgerald. “Volleyball helped me get to know people.”
“Even though we didn’t win a lot of matches, we learned a lot and supported each other on the court and in the hallways,” added Mary Margaret Nugent.
Some players will move on to the high school level, but the team is excited to build a new team on and off the court next year.
“We want to do these (service) projects again,” said seventh grader Brenna Zbikowski.