Local kid launches Lego drive for Mary Bridge
Meet a 12-year-old former-patient-turned-entrepreneur who launched a Lego drive to help patients at Mary Bridge.Feb 13th, 2017 Comments
By Kathleen Cooper
Some days, when the nausea and the fatigue caused by chemotherapy kept him trapped on the couch, Isaac Benjamin wanted just one thing: to put together a Lego.
"I just wanted to put them together and listen to a story on tape, and forget for a moment how bad I felt," says Isaac, now 8-and-a-half years old, who has been battling acute lymphoblastic leukemia since he was 6. He's in the last several months of treatment through Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital.
Another boy also saw the value of Legos to those kids fighting cancer at Mary Bridge.
Eric Vasquez, age 12, owns Connect the Brick & More, a Lego store in Tacoma's Proctor District.
That's right — Eric is a 12-year-old entrepreneur. When he's not running his store, he's studying the usual 6th-grade stuff at Mason Middle School.
Eric was receiving physical therapy for his feet at Mary Bridge last year, and saw kids with very serious illnesses while he was in the waiting room. Eric also has had parents of sick children shop in his store.
Then, he met Isaac. Early in Isaac's treatment cycle, Eric helped find a Star Wars Separatists Shuttle that Isaac had been wanting for some time. (It's from Clone Wars. It has 259 pieces. Five mini-figures. A hatch that opens with gadgets inside. As Isaac says: It rocks.)
These events got Eric's wheels turning. How can he Connect the Brick to the kids at Mary Bridge?
"Think about how bad so many of us feel when we just have a cold," Eric says. "These kids are sick for months, sometimes years, at a time."
The result of Eric's brainstorm was the Connect with a Friend Foundation. Eric, with the help of his parents and a local nonprofit called Right Now Today, launched a Lego drive last fall with the goal of making an ongoing donation of new, un-opened Lego boxed toys. Right Now Today is providing help with publicity.
So far Eric has around 30 Lego sets of all kinds. His goal is to collect hundreds more. They must be un-opened because of infection concerns. Cancer patients' immune systems are taxed, so the clinic must ensure all toys come in clean.
Want to donate a set? Go to connectthebrick.com and click on the link to learn how.
"The possibilities of Legos are unlimited," Eric says. "They're easy to work with when you're in bed."
Child Life Specialist Kristen Bishop says Legos are the ideal toy for children being treated in the Mary Bridge Hematology/Oncology Clinic.
"Legos are a big hit," Bishop says. "We're always asking for those from community members."
"One of my most important jobs is keeping kids occupied while they're here," Bishop says. "Legos are time-consuming. They give kids an opportunity to use their imagination."
And unlike Play-Doh or Crayons, they're re-usable because they're easy to disinfect. Bishop just throws the pieces into a mesh bag, then puts them in a dishwasher at the clinic.
Isaac's mother, Sarah Benjamin, said Eric's plan to work on a Lego donation almost brought her to tears. She was talking with Eric about his idea, she said, and Eric told her, "I just don’t want the kids at Mary Bridge to be lonely."
"Isaac was very lonely," Benjamin says. "We bribed him with Legos to have him take his medication. Eventually Legos became his only toy."
When your child is being treated for cancer, the bright spots can be few and far between.
"The time feels really gray," Benjamin says.
Little things help you bump along, she says: Someone who makes special decorated Converse shoes for Isaac. A playdate. Time at the park.
And for Isaac, as often as possible, a new Lego.
Isaac during the first year of treatment.
Learn more about the Mary Bridge Cancer program