Sara Puryear, 18, of Nashville, Tenn., a senior at Harpeth Hall School, started a program to encourage young people around her state to collect toys, clothing and other gifts for patients at a Nashville children's hospital. Sara had already participated in several donation drives for the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt when one day, as she was delivering some items, she happened to see 70 newly donated red wagons, which are used to transport young patients at the hospital. She immediately thought about filling all of the wagons with things that could make sick children's hospital stays more comfortable and pleasant.
She presented to the hospital a plan to recruit young volunteers all over Tennessee to conduct donation drives in their local neighborhoods, schools, churches and community organizations for the children of Vanderbilt. The hospital embraced her idea and set up a page on its website featuring the "Red Wagon Project" logo that Sara designed. Sara holds orientation sessions for new "ambassadors" twice a year, and provides them with packets of posters and information to assist them with their own drives. As a result, thousands of items have arrived at the hospital, including games, toys, pajamas, socks and other things on the hospital's wish list. "The nurses tell us that anything special brings a smile to the patient and helps a rough situation be not so bad," said Sara. "Being in the hospital is tough on children and any way to make this experience a more normal' part of childhood is worth the world to me."