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A Little Girl's Big Idea Lives On: Caps for the Cure Has Raised More Than $160,000

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A Little Girl's Big Idea Lives On: Caps for the Cure Has Raised More Than $160,000

Kristina Schultz wearing her favorite capMadison, Wisconsin - "I told you I could do it."

Those who knew and loved Kristina Schultz believe that's what she would have said, with an ear-to-ear grin, after learning one bright idea had turned into a statewide campaign to find a cure for cancer.

Kristina, who would have been a graduate of Sun Prairie High School's Class of 2015, lost her battle with leukemia eight years ago this April. But in the years since her passing, the Caps for the Cure fundraiser she dreamed up has raised more than $160,000 for the American Family Children's Hospital in Madison.

Kristina's family and friends describe her as a vivacious little girl with a magnetic personality, who loved Badger hockey, singing and dancing, telling jokes, and making friends with everyone she met.

"She always wanted to help other kids," says Kristina's mother, Lori, of their time at American Family Children's Hospital (then UW Children's Hospital). "She made cards for the other kids in the unit, and delivered them while they were sleeping," Lori remembers. "She always thought they were sicker than she was."

That passion to help others, even while she was facing her own declining health, is what inspired Kristina.

Mary Taylor taught second grade in Sun Prairie for more than three decades, and when Kristina became too ill to attend class, Mary became her in-home teacher. She remembers sitting around the family's dining room table when Kristina announced her big idea.

She might have only been 9 years old, but she had a pretty grown-up plan. What if, she imagined, every student and staff member in the school district donated $1, and in exchange, got to wear a cool cap for a day? Doing the math, Kristina set a goal of $10,000, or $1,000 from each of the district's 10 schools.

"We told her that was a pretty lofty goal," Mary recalls, "but her response was: 'You always say to aim high, so why not?' "

Kristina got to work and, with Mary's help, made phone calls and wrote letters to principals and student council advisors, pitching her fundraising drive.

It worked. All 10 schools participated, and the campaign exceeded even Kristina's expectations, generating $10,139.45 in a single day.

Unfortunately, Kristina lost her battle to cancer on April 7, 2007, just a few weeks before the first Caps for the Cure. "I wish she would have lived to see it," Lori says. "That's my only regret. But I know she's been at every single one of them in spirit."

Kristina was adamant the money raised go toward cancer research. "She always said she didn't want any other kids to suffer the way she did," Lori explains.

So what would Kristina have to say about her legacy?

"She would be amazed, but not surprised," Lori believes. "Deep down, she knew this would happen."

The Schultz family still helps spread the word about Caps for the Cure every year. Kristina's sister, Hanna, a high school freshman, does her part to share the family's story.

And in 2014, Lori was invited to co-host the annual American Family Children's Hospital Radiothon - the three-day, over-the-air hospital fundraiser will again be broadcast on Madison's Q106 and 93.1 JAMZ from April 29 to May 1. She describes the experience as exhausting, exhilarating and a true honor.

"For years, we were on the other side of the microphone sharing our story," Lori says. "I can relate to what the other families were saying, having lived at the hospital for days on end, living the good-news-bad-news rollercoaster."

Kristina's kindness is the reason Mary keeps giving back, too. She volunteers at American Family Children's Hospital, teaching classes on the fourth and fifth floors, and says she's honoring her former student by working with those children at the hospital, and with Caps.

"As hard as Kristina fought for her life, how could I not fight to help her fulfill her dream of finding a cure for pediatric cancer?" Mary asks.

Since 2007, dozens of other schools across Wisconsin, and even a few in other states, have joined in on Caps for the Cure. The Sun Prairie School District is preparing for its fundraiser April 24. Kristina's classmates have kept their friend's memory alive through the Caps campaign. And this year, their last together at Sun Prairie, they hope to raise even more money by designing and selling t-shirts with an image of Kristina's favorite hat.

"Kristina was, and continues to be, an inspiration to all who knew her," Mary says. "She will always hold a very special place in my heart."

Lori loves to share stories about her daughter's vibrant sense of humor, her bravery, and her generous spirit that, thanks to the money being raised by Caps, is giving children and families hope. "Kristina was so sweet," Lori says. "She had a big heart, and I'm so proud of her for starting this."

Date Published: 03/25/2015

News tag(s):  cancergetinvolvedpedscancer