Saturday, April 30, 2016

In 5/Under 5: Wish Lucas a Beary Happy 6th Birthday!

** NOTE: It is with a very heavy heart that we share this news; I've never had to make an announcement like this in 3+ years and for the many birthday card challenges ITLT has offered. "He is cancer free and no longer in pain," his family wrote. Lucas, who would've turned 6 on Saturday, was able to celebrate his birthday early with his family and was flooded with hundreds of birthday cards from around the world-- a Chicago UPS store was running out of space because well-wishers sent so many. Thank you to everyone who so lovingly sent "Bear" a birthday card. Our thoughts are with his family. **
Hey #TeamITLT— we interrupt our own current Featured Event in order to bring you a special new #in5under5 challenge! "What's that," you ask? Great question!

Here at it's the little things, we like to offer projects that you can essentially complete in five minutes and for under five dollars. We love these projects because they are tokens of love, usually little effort on our end, but very meaningful to the recipient. Similar to those we've offered in the past, today's project is a birthday card! 

Since this #CreativeActOfKindness can be so creative and crafty, so personal and powerful, we're excited to see your efforts. But first, let's learn a little bit about Lucas... rather, "Bear," as he is affectionately known.

Lucas "Bear" Cervone is probably the toughest five year old, like, ever. In August 2012, Lucas was diagnosed with pediatric leukemia. After three intense years of treatment, he beat it. Not long after, he was diagnosed with another incurable cancer. In November 2015, Lucas underwent a stem cell transplant and beat the viruses again. He was so happy to return home, his family waited to celebrate Christmas with him in February.

After overcoming seemingly impossible obstacles already, the Cervone family recieved one more devastating phone call. The doctors found a tumor near Lucas' heart. They attempted to slow the growth of the tumor with a round of palliative chemo, but it is wrapped around the pulmonary artery, pressing on Lucas' heart. The tumor is both inoperable and incurable.

On May 7th, the little "Bear" turns six years old.

After a life fighting unfair battles, the family recently chose to end painful treatments. As the Cervone family prepares for his last birthday, they hope to make Lucas' remaining days his happiest. His strength and courage are immeasurable, and his community should reflect the same. Quality of life is their priority, and we can all take a page from the Cervone book.

The Chicago community and beyond sent Lucas over 500 cards for Christmas. He loved getting mail and seeing the cards so much that the family hopes he will receive even more for his birthday.

Join me in wishing Lucas the happiest birthday. "What we want to show him is his family will be here with him, as well as everyone else," Anthony Cervone commented. By sending a card, we are letting one special little boy know just how loved and supported he is, and we can make a big impact together.

Send your birthday cards here:

Lucas "Bear" Cervone
40 E. Chicago Ave. #162
Chicago, IL 60611

As always, let us know that you're participating in this project! 

Share a photo of your birthday card with us on Instagram:
@itsthelittlethingsdotme #TeamITLT
We want to regram your awesome efforts!

Much thanks to our new friend Davina for sharing this story!
Article originally found on NBC Bay Area

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

A Special Mother's Day Event

One year ago, a friend approached me about collaborating on a project.

"Joan! I want to work with you on something. I have this idea and I think you would know better how to make it happen."

I hadn't seen Valeri in years but, despite both moving from the city where we went to college, she now lived only about a half hour away. My interest was piqued. 

Valeri is a photographer (of Little Blue World Photography) and I learned that she had recently joined a campaign called #existinphotos. The idea is that moms are mostly the ones taking the photos and are very rarely in them. 

"It's so, so important to make sure you exist in pictures for your kids, you know?"

Valeri planned to do a series of mini sessions with moms and their children. I loved the concept, but this twist had my heart: she wanted to donate a day of sessions to a charity or program that serves low-income single mothers. She was hoping I could help coordinate an opportunity for her to do so.

"Ideally, the shoot itself will be a Mother's Day gift."

That was all I needed to hear; I was sold. We would host a Mother's Day event and offer both a photo shoot and touched-up prints free of charge. With less than a month to go, we immediately made moves to turn this into a reality. 

How would we fund this event?

Valeri generously offered to host two days of donation-based photo shoots. Via her website and facebook page, moms signed up for abbreviated time slots. She shared our goals with her clients and asked them to donate any amount toward our event in lieu of her normal fee. She posted this flyer (below) one evening and booked 8 clients overnight. She had so many requests, but could only fit 15 mini-sessions into two days. (The fact that she managed to fit 7-8 photoshoots into each day blows me away!) After two long days of photographing, she collected a grand total of $495 for our event. I couldn't believe it. This was more than enough to fund the prints and host a really nice event for some incredible women.

Where would we host it and who would be invited?

At the time, I was a faculty advisor at an incredible community college. I worked in the Student Services Department and closely with the folks who ran programs like Trio, Guardian Scholars, and EOPS. I had a feeling the EOPS/CARE program fit our bill perfectly: "The mission of CARE (Cooperative Agencies Resources for Education) is to support the unique needs of EOPS students who are single parents by promoting self-sufficiency and academic success through tailored workshops, additional counseling, educational materials and financial assistance for child care related expenses."

The CARE program had about 40 single moms on welfare. The Dean was so excited about our event that she suggested that we host the event right there on campus. I created this flyer (above) to be emailed through the program and invited sign-ups. I also received permission to use the Foundation's Tax ID number in order to solicit specific food and drinks donations from local stores.

Isn't ITLT all about DIY?

Yup! I'm so glad you asked. it's the little things is unique in that we suggest creative acts of kindness, so we definitely needed to add a crafty element. The event was expected to last about two hours and I wanted to create a welcoming and warm environment for the families while they waited to be photographed. Since we were hosting single moms, and I can only imagine how hard they work day in and day out, I wanted to treat them to a special morning. My plan was to offer two craft sites: a room upstairs for the kids and a patio area downstairs for the moms. 

In the kids room, we offered a perfectly themed art activity: hand decorating picture frames. I bought about 40 plain wooden picture frames ($1/pc at Michael's) and brought all the crafts I could find. (If you've seen my previous craft room, this was a lot.) Markers, stickers, yarn, pom poms, jewels, ribbon, scissors, glue, glue sticks, and tape were scattered among the tables. (Last minute, I decided to leave the glitter at home. This was the RIGHT call!) Previous to the event, this the perfect excuse to have a craft night with my friend Rhianna in order to create picture frame examples (above). My own mom brought giant coloring pages for the kids as well. 

Downstairs, I set out a mom treat-yo-self craft, if you will: DIY sugar scrub. Each table had a bottle of almond oil, a mason jar of sugar, and several essential oils (lavender, eucalyptus, rose, and tea tree) with instructions written on adorable mini chalkboard signs. (See the breakdown of ingredients by clicking and enlarging the photo below!) I bought a pack of durable 2-3oz containers that each mom would be able to take home with them, and I spray painted the caps gold before the event. Droppers were used to dispense the oils and we used wooden coffee stirrers to mix our concoctions! Luckily, I had several incredible volunteers to help with the create-your-own aspects of the projects both up and downstairs.

Checklist: Assembling the team in #TeamITLT

Several things had to happen before our big event and I couldn't believe it all worked out so well.
  • Funds. Valeri hosted two successful days of donation-based mini photo shoots. I don't personally know the families that participated and made this event possible, but in case you're reading this, THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart.
  • Food. My favorite local bakery generously donated the most delicious bread pudding platters. Creme Caramel LA has stepped up for more than one of our women-focused events, and they have my undying gratitude and highest recommendation. My parents also donated lemon and blueberry muffins. Longtime #TeamITLT member Lisa also came over the day before the event to help me bake sugar cookies (with rainbow sprinkles, obviously!) that spelled out "Happy Mother's Day!"
  • Drinks. My corner Starbucks store kindly donated a coffee traveler along with milk, sugar, and stir sticks. My parents also filled two large dispensers with water and lemonade. 
  • Decorations. The day before I bought inexpensive tablecloths, napkins, plates, and cups. From home I brought a few colorful vases and mason jars. On the way in the morning, I picked up balloons (in English y en EspaƱol) and a large bouquet of flowers. 
  • Crafts. I had all the supplies ready for both the kid and mom DIY activities. Luckily, we collected enough donations to cover these costs as well. 
  • Treat yo self. This was one category I tried desperately to provide, but it just didn't come to full fruition with our time constraint. I really wanted to offer a massage station, but unfortunately couldn't find therapists or students in training that were available to join us. 
  • Location. Valeri said she could scout our location for good places to shoot the photos when she got to the college that morning. The weather was a little overcast on this warm May morning, which was actually perfect lighting for pictures.

"Happy Mother's Day!!!"

Our Mother's Day

We hosted about 15 moms and their children on a Saturday morning (10:30am-12pm) the day before Mother's Day. Four people came out to volunteer (in addition to my family), so we had a solid seven person team to ensure everything run smoothly. Moms signed up when they arrived and we photographed them in that order. Each mom signed a contract and proved contact information so we could stay organized. They excitedly participated in crafts and enjoyed snacks before and after their photos.

I had to constantly remind myself to "KEEP IT TOGETHER, HURWIT!" Tears filled my eyes and my heart swelled when each new family walked up to join us. The kids had on their cutest clothes; they looked so sharp! But even more than that... the moms looked gorgeous and I could tell they were excited to dress up. They felt beautiful. I realized that was all I really wanted from this whole day.

My tipping point? I made such an effort to give the moms a separate space. I figured: let's give them a relaxing spa-related craft, let's give them a break. I thought they would want a chance to catch their breath and enjoy time with other moms. I had plenty of volunteers to help their kids with the craft upstairs.

I was completely caught off guard when the moms wanted to join their kids. They wanted to work on the picture frames upstairs with their children.

Of course. They wanted to spend Mother's Day as the incredible mothers they are.
Not a mother yet myself, I didn't see this coming. Crying as I write this; I think I get it now.

Early on, I realized how grateful I was to share the company of such admirable moms and women. My own mom pulled out all the stops to help me that morning. Valeri, a new mom, selflessly offered up her services to make this magical morning possible. The Dean, a single powerhouse mom, brought her own son and helped the event go off without a hitch. I had such invaluable and incalculable role models all around me, and I couldn't have been happier to spend a Saturday morning this way.

Follow up and follow through

Each of the moms received the digital images of their photo shoot with Valeri, but she was really adamant about providing them with nice quality prints. How often do you print photos these days? We didn't want them to have to worry about it. Plus, this way they could fill those adorable picture frames they all made! Valeri edited the photos and, several weeks later, gifted each mom with one 8x10 and several 4x6 prints. She also went out of her way to adorably wrap each set.

The photos themselves were absolutely stunning. Valeri did such an amazing job of capturing both each individual's personality as well as the love each family shared. I still get misty looking through the album a year later. Please enjoy the small selection of photos below, but be sure to check out even more on the it's the little things facebook page!


I sincerely hope that you can host your own ITLT Mother's Day event, this year or thereafter. Our time and resources are always limited, but collaborating with a special team to make it happen is half the magic. If you do get the opportunity to share an ITLT inspired Mother's Day event, I hope you'll remember to share with us!

A huge thank you to photographer Valeri for her
brilliance, talents, and generosity. 

As always, tag us 
@itsthelittlethingsdotme and #TeamITLT 
so we can see your efforts!

Feeling inspired? Pin now, plan later!