At one time, Olivia Gonyea was a typical student at Niagara-Wheatfield's Errick Road Elementary School. Then the unthinkable happened. When she was 8 years old, she was diagnosed with a form of cancer called Ewings sarcoma.
While she was facing the fight of her life, many people sent her gifts and encouragement, including the Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres. But one of the things that really touched her was a bear brought to her by a little boy.
"She really cherished that bear and it helped to comfort her," explains family friend Brooke Moliosky. "When she went into remission, she remembered that act of kindness and wanted to do the same for other children fighting cancer."
Olivia's Bears was born out of that compassion and that need to pay it forward.
Olivia's organization collects donations and participates in Build A Bear, where she and her supporters make every kind of bear a little child would love, from football and hockey bears to princesses and cheerleaders. She then goes to Roswell Park Cancer Institute and Women and Children's Hospital where she personally delivers them to children who are undergoing treatment. "It is such a beautiful thing and means so much to the children and their parents," says Moliosky.
With tears in her eyes, she talked about how seeing a healthy and happy Olivia gives the parents some hope.
"It just always chokes me up how they respond to her and what she does for their child. I remember one day she gave this little boy a bear, and it was just such perfect timing because he had just gotten sick all over his stuffed animal, and it was very upsetting to him that it had to be taken away. Then Olivia handed him this new bear to love, and it made him so happy."
The Errick Road K-Kids, which is sponsored by the Kiwanis Club, decided to help out and raised $607.17 to brighten the holidays of children who are at Women and Children's Hospital. Danny Maerten, who helps to mentor the students through the Kiwanis, says he is really proud of what they accomplished. "This program is about leadership and character, and these students certainly showed how caring they are by wanting to reach out to children who need that comfort."
From left, front row, are Brooke Moliosky, Madison Sensie, Gabriella Fletcher and Olivia Gonyea; back row, Katie Bergstrom, Jenna Augugliaro and Alexandria Sorge.