If you could go back to your teen years, what would you change?

Teens are like squirrels (too indecisive to pick a direction). Not yet an adult but no longer a child, yet they are often expected to make decisions like an adult and aren’t always treated like one. Add a complex medical diagnosis, or a sibling fighting cancer and you have a lot of feelings that are hard to describe. At the Center, these kids can leave all of that at the door and be who they want to be.

When they say, “Let’s tie-dye!”

I say, “How many t-shirts?”

When they say, “Let’s play dodgeball INSIDE!”

I say, “Don’t hit the lights. Who’s on my team?”

We allow them to take chances, be funny and make their OWN decisions, while eliminating the risk of illness in our safe and clean environment. Parents: It is possible! And your teen LOVES you but they don’t always want to be around you! I’ll fill in the gap for you!

I started my journey at CHC as a volunteer and instantly fell in love with all the fun and smiles that are created behind the blue doors. In May of 2017, I joined the staff as Project Coordinator. At a nonprofit, we all wear many hats but one that I am very proud to be a part of is our teen program. I have found teen nights to be the most fun and the value of social wellness for siblings, to be invaluable.

I grew up on a farm in Rockford as the oldest of 5 kids. We were always on the go and I am the definition of a busy bee. I have always filled my days from sun up to sun down. Involved in 4-H and mission trips with my church, playing a variety of different sports and traveling with my friends and family, I was never in the same place for very long. Most people look back and say their teen years were very difficult or awkward. For me, I was probably very awkward but I was too busy to care. I absolutely loved everything about my teen years. I still joke, if I was given a wand and could go back to any time in my life, I would go back to high school.

That’s my goal for our teen members- to allow them a safe space to be weird, confident, silly and have fun without worrying about an illness or their parents, or other social pressures. My unique experience, being so involved socially and in sports, instilled a deep-seated value in community and socialization. I want to bring out the best in everyone at the Center, especially teens. The teens who come to the Center are not labeled by a diagnosis. Their medical struggles, as patient or sibling, have certainly given them maturity beyond their years but they are still teenagers who enjoy texting, hanging with friends, playing sports or listening music.

I want them to feel like the Center is a place they can just be themselves.

I love to laugh, smile, dance and be silly. I love it even more when I get to witness those smiling faces building friendships at the Center.

Sometimes they arrive and it’s clear they didn’t want to come. After some familiar faces show up, their moods soften and they start opening up. 15 minutes into an AR scavenger hunt or a painting project and my heart explodes into 1,000 pieces as I witness them letting their guard down and having fun. Having a life-changing medical diagnosis makes kids do a lot of things they can’t control. Sometimes they miss out on the things their peers get to do because the risk to their health is too great. I am here to say YES to the fun and give them back the chance to be a teen by making friends without worrying about their health.

Now who’s coming to play floor hockey?

– Sam Anderson