While many preteen girls are playing with friends, one young Riversider has spent the last several months doing her part to fundraise and support one local family going through a health crisis with their.
Earlier this summer, when 11-year-old Emma Udelson discovered her neighbor Jennifer Veselsky’s infant grandson, Giovanni “Gio” Torres, was battling a rare form of cancer, she decided to think of a unique way to raise money for the family and spread awareness amongst locals as a means to show community support.
Initially, Udelson was having fun making her own beaded bracelets when she told her mother, Michelle, that she wanted to help make a few gold bracelets for Veselsky and her family as a way to offer support.
Emma had seen gold ribbons tied around trees in the neighborhood — gold being the national color for childhood cancer — along with “Go Gold for Gio” signs to show support for the Veselsky and Torres families.
“I decided that I should do something and I saw all the gold ribbons around Riverside and that really inspired me,” Emma, a fifth-grader at Ames School, said.
Michelle said Emma simply started making bracelets for Gio’s family and didn’t originally plan on selling them.
“Emma is very artistic, and then just one day out of the blue, she came home with these beads and said, ‘Mom, could I make a gold bracelet for you, me, Mrs. V [Gio’s grandmother] and Gio’s mom, so that when they don’t see the gold ribbons, they could look down and see a gold bracelet and know we’re thinking of them,'” Michelle said.
However, after giving the family the bracelets, the wheels in Emma’s head started spinning and she decided she wanted to help the family financially.
During the summer, Emma shared her idea with her family, friends and Girl Scout troop, making gold beaded bracelets to sell locally and online for Gio’s family.
According to Emma, each beaded bracelet takes about 15 minutes to make. After a bracelet is made, Emma puts them in a gold bag with a business card sharing information about the cause and sells each for $25. Twenty dollars from each bracelet goes directly to Gio’s family and Emma saves the rest to purchase bracelet-making supplies.
To promote the bracelet fundraiser, Michelle created a local Facebook page for neighbors and friends join. So far, Emma has sold more than 130 bracelets and raised over $2,000 for Gio’s family.
Gio, who turned 1 on Nov. 26, was diagnosed with a rhabdoid tumor on his liver when he was just 6 weeks old.
The cancer was discovered when Gio’s mother — Veselsky’s daughter, Amber Kobela — felt a lump in Gio’s side. She took Gio to the emergency room at Hinsdale Hospital, where doctors performed ultrasounds and found a tumor on his liver.
Following Gio’s most recent CT scans, he has five total tumor spots in his body, including a small spot on his lung. Because Gio’s body was not responding well to chemotherapy, last fall went eight weeks without treatment as his family and doctors were working to try and come up with other treatment options that may work more effectively.
Veselsky says she, her daughter Amber and Gio’s father, Tyler Torres, of Brookfield are grateful for Emma’s fundraiser to help offset the costs of treatment for Gio and rally moral support.
“I teared up,” Veselsky said about the moment she learned of Emma’s fundraiser. “It was an emotional thing to have this little girl at 11 years old, amidst kids that are selfish these days, who wants to make these bracelets and raise money for Gio. Emma is the sweetest.”
Emma says the time she has dedicated towards making the bracelets is worth it when she sees the positive impact it has helped bring the Veselsky and Torres families.
“It’s really important to me, because I know that they’re going through a really hard time and I want to make them happy and not pay so much attention to the bad things and think of the bright side,” she said.
Jennifer Udelson says she is happy to see how her daughter came up with the idea on her own to support a local family in need.
“[Everyone] coming together has been so beautiful for us to see, but also for Gio’s family,” she said. “When Emma first started this, we really didn’t know what to expect.”
Veselsky says she is grateful for Emma’s assistance to the family and for the Riverside and Brookfield community’s support, both from purchasing the bracelets to tying the gold ribbons around trees and spreading the word on social media.
To join Emma’s Facebook group, search “Emma’s Jewelry for Gio.” To learn more about Gio and donate directly to the family, visit pages.giveforward.com/medical/page-7z8xcs5/.