“This is a ball of string.” Mrs Bradley holds it up for the class to see. “You’ll be sharing one between two and have the first week of the holidays to use it as a fund raiser. I’m not giving any guidelines except it must be for a charitable cause.”
Tim Schultz lifts his hand. “When does the project begin?”
“First thing Saturday morning. You have the rest of today’s lesson to get into pairs and brainstorm some ideas.”
A few minutes later, I’m in a huddle with my best friend, Lucy. “Any thoughts?”
She shakes her head. “You’re the creative one, Fiona. What do you think?”
I doodle on the page in front of me, lacing stars and crosses into an elaborate mural. “I’d like to help an individual rather than a charity.”
Lucy points at the crosses I’m drawing. “What about a medical need?”
The hospital is austere and antiseptic as we seek out the matron of the children’s ward and present our case. She thinks for a moment. “I’ve someone in mind but will have to check with her parents first. Come and meet Tracy.”
My heart melts when I see the child, a seven year old with a disfigured face that means she can’t smile.
We arrive back at 8 a.m. the next morning and the matron ushers us in to see the hospital administrator. He’s lanky with grey hair, silver spectacles and a stern smile. “We want to raise funds for Tracy’s surgery.” I tell him, “We’ll do it by selling our string at $5 per yard. We’d like permission to run it from Tracy’s bed, through the corridor and into the grounds to generate public interest.”
He nods. “Two conditions. It gets taped along the wall and doesn’t interfere with the hospital routines... and I want to be first to contribute.”
We race to Tracy’s room, waving his cheque. “We’ve got $50 to start!” Her eyes smile at us.
We measure out ten yards and tape it from her bed, down the corridor wall and over the ceiling. Then we go to work, putting up signs we printed out last night. The string begins here...where is it going to end? Tracy needs your help to smile again. I shoot some video footage and take a few photos. Back home, Lucy uploads the story onto YouTube while I call local radio stations and newspapers.
The first day is slow, but we canvass hospital visitors and ask them to tell their friends. The string grows, a yard here and a yard there until it’s out the window and rolling across the stretch of lawn.
The second day, I call the radio stations and newspapers again and this time, I get a response. A couple of reporters come out and a radio station does a live interview with us. “Tracy is a beautiful girl.” I tell them. “We want to help her smile again.”
An hour later a delivery man arrives from a local shop with a carton of string. “Donation from the boss.” the driver explains. “He thinks you’re going to need it.”
The manager of McDonalds down the street is next. “We’re willing to give enough to get the string into our store. We’ll run it past the counter and ask customers to donate as well.”
What happens after that is a blur of string, thousands of YouTube hits and incredible public support. We call in friends and family to help and the money in the bank account swells into thousands and tens of thousands.
By day six, we’ve been through several cartons of string and it winds from Tracy’s bed, through the window, down the street, through McDonalds, through other businesses and churches, through the park and into a suburban area. The media is fully involved now and the message pumps across the airwaves. The string begins here...where is it going to end? Tracy needs your help to smile again.
At the end of day seven, TV cameras are on hand as the bank gives us the total to date. $47, 390 and the money’s still coming in. A reporter puts a mic in my face. “Fiona, you must be thrilled at the response you’ve received. Tell us where this story is going to end.”
I think of the string, beginning at Tracy’s bed, travelling through the town, a cord extended with love. “This story begins at Tracy’s hospital bed.” I say, “And will end at her home with a smile.”
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