By Chris Collins
Isabella Evans, a Baker Middle School seventh-grader, describes herself and eighth-grader Kara Bennett as ringleaders of Baker City's Kids-Heal program.
And Isabella's mother, Cherie Evans, says she's the project's den mother.
As of March 1, Cherie Evans is the new owner of Random Resales at 2450 Cherry St., which will serve as a hub for the Kids-Heal work, according to artist Frank Etxaniz, founder and organizer of the program.
The store will offer donated Nike, Adidas and Columbia Sportswear products for sale along with Kids-Heal T-shirts and crafts Cherie and Isabella create. (Half of the sale of the sportswear will go to the Kids-Heal program and the Evanses split the profits from their crafts between Doernbecher's and Bikers Fighting Cancer.)
"And I help him organize stuff," Evans said of Etxaniz. "Whatever he needs me to do."
Evans said moving from a job with the Department of Human Services to being self-employed will help her be more flexible as she works with the Kids-Heal program and it will allow her to be more available for her daughter.
Etxaniz, founder of the Children's Healing Art Project, met the Evans family (which includes dad, Doug) while Isabella was at Doernbecher Children's Hospital in Portland where she received a stem-cell transplant for T-cell leukemia.
Etxaniz says he chose Baker City as the site where he'll build a "research center for art, nutrition and health education" because he was inspired by Isabella's creativity.
He said the prototype he develops here will be replicated in programs that will be established in other parts of the state. Currently he will visit Baker Middle School, where Isabella and Kara are students, the third Thursday of each month. He'll be at South Baker School, where Isabella was a fifth- and sixth-grader during her treatment at the Portland hospital, on the third Wednesday of each month.
Etxaniz hopes to expand the program to Brooklyn Primary School and Baker High School once it's established at South Baker and the middle school.
Extaniz says he chose Baker City not only because it was Isabella's hometown but because the nearly 300-student Brooklyn and South Baker schools and the Baker High School enrollment of about 500 students are "perfect control groups" on which to develop the prototype.
And he's from Ontario and "can speak Eastern Oregon," he said.
The research for program development is being done in conjunction with Stanford and Harvard universities, he said.
According to the organization's website, "Kids-Heal works to improve the emotional, physical and creative health of all children." It transforms patients into teachers and it uses the arts to illustrate and educate people about health-care issues. More information is available at www.kids-heal.org.
Cancer was the focus of the February session at South Baker and with the middle school leadership class. That gave Isabella the opportunity to share her experience with leukemia and how she's "conquered cancer," said Betty Palmer, South Baker principal.
The program is about reaching out to others, Isabella says.
She wants other kids to know that even though she can't do all the things she used to do, such as play soccer and compete in track events, she's not so different from them.
"Just because people are sick, we can still reach out to them," she says.
"I think what kids really think is that this stuff is contagious and they can get it," Isabella said. "Instead it's something you keep and you can't get rid of it."
The good news is she no longer has leukemia, but she still lives with the aftermath of the treatment, her mother said.
Kara, who's had diabetes since she was 6 years old, will get a chance to tell the students about her disease as well.
She is involved in volleyball and tennis and she and Isabella are both members of the middle school leadership class, led by teacher Samantha Sullivan. Eighth-grader Kourtney Lehman is BMS student body president and another active member of the leadership class.
"Kara and Isabella are using their misfortune to help others and to reach out to others," Kourtney says.
She used an iPad to film the half-day of activities at South Baker School. Etxaniz says he will be sending an edited version of the video to Nickelodeon network, HBO, the Disney channel and others in the hope of spreading the word about Kids-Heal.
The video also includes footage of students using iPads and laptop computers to research the health benefits and cancer-fighting qualities of certain foods. And they made sandwiches from those foods: slices of whole wheat bread combined with tomatoes, avocados, turkey, cheese, spinach and mustard.
"Kids actually liked the sandwiches," Kara said.
"And they enjoyed using the technology and learning about the foods," Kourtney added.
In the third station, Kara and Isabella talked to the students about the differences between healthy blood cells and blood cells with cancer. The students then used their creativity to produce a mural of the different cells.
Students progressed through the three stations by grade levels, Palmer said. South Baker houses fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade students.
Between sessions the entire school participated in a zumba session led by Tiffany Gyllenberg of the YMCA.
Palmer had praise for the program, for Extaniz and for her students and her staff.
"He's a great guy and it's a great program," she said. "And the staff, I can't compliment them enough for being willing to take on something kind of zany."
Cherie Evans also was impressed with the South Baker session.
"It's great thinking about the kids getting the art and fun and exercise they're now missing," she said, noting that teachers are busy concentrating their efforts on educational basics and have little time for the extras.
Etxaniz says he'll rely on the students to help design the program as it progresses through the year.
"There were a number of kids who had really great responses to what we were doing," Extaniz said. "Their words and their choices make a program that engages them."