Zoe Nash and her family have spent far too many Christmases at Children’s Hospital Colorado where Zoe’s little sister, Simone, received treatment for a weakened immune system, asthma and seizures.
Thankfully, Simone is healthy and strong now. But Zoe will never forget what it was like to watch her brave sister spend birthdays and Christmases inside a sterile hospital room.
When it was time for Zoe, a Life Scout from Troop 114G of the Denver Area Council, to plan her Eagle Scout service project, she knew one thing for sure: It had to involve helping kids like her sister.
So she created a toy drive and drive-through carnival to benefit the young patients at Children’s Hospital Colorado. She wanted to make sure each sick kid would have a new toy to take home.
Zoe knew one more thing, too: She didn’t want her toy drive to involve anonymous donors placing gifts inside cardboard boxes. She wanted to get kids out of the house and into the giving spirit.
On Dec. 19, Zoe’s Eagle project dream became a glorious reality. At the COVID-safe Caravan Carnival & Toy Drive, kids and families from across the region donated toys and participated in games — all from the safety of their cars.
“The purpose is to include kids,” Zoe says. “They like giving to others, and the carnival atmosphere will bring joy during COVID, when little kids are stuck at home.”
To add to the fun, Zoe and her project volunteers built a pair of “toy slides.” Each slide was the height of a car window and gave kids a fun way to donate toys without coming into contact with any other people.
Instead of a parent handing the toy to a volunteer or dropping it into a box, kids got to watch their donated items zoom down a bright yellow slide.
In the end, Zoe gave the hospital 86 packs of Play-Doh, 170 coloring books, 130 boxes of crayons and markers, and 400 toys.
It’s a remarkable achievement summarized perfectly by Zoe’s favorite quote — words she uses in her email signature: “The best way to gain happiness is to give it away to others.”
Choosing an Eagle project
At first, Zoe disregarded the idea of a toy drive — worried it didn’t have the scope necessary for an Eagle project.
But as we’ve outlined on this blog again and again and again, Eagle projects don’t have to involve building something permanent to have a lasting impact.
“It kept coming back up, and when she decided to go with it, it made us feel, as a family, so excited and proud,” says Zoe’s Mom, Shoshana. “The fact that the joy she wanted to create will continue for days and months, to hundreds of families, makes our hearts overflow.”
How she did it — safely
The project beneficiary, Children’s Hospital Colorado, told Zoe that toys were a great need this season.
In normal years, the hospital has toys the patients can borrow and return. Not so during COVID. Nurses can only offer unopened toys and must send them home with the child.
Zoe planned the drive for a Saturday in December. She secured the parking lot of Littleton United Methodist Church, recruited Scouts to help with promotion and setup, and asked adults to help manage traffic.
State COVID restrictions meant that Scouts could not approach car windows to collect donations, so Zoe and her project helpers built the now-famous slides. Everything was painted rubber ducky yellow because that color “represents joy,” Zoe says.
“We were talking about how people could donate toys without making direct contact with any other person,” Zoe says. “I thought of the idea that they reach out the window and put the toy on the slide, and it goes to the bottom to a Scout wearing gloves and a mask.”
Zoe didn’t stop there. She wanted families to have something fun to do after donating the toys, so she created carnival activities kids could enjoy from the car.
Zoe and her volunteers set up themed stations, challenging kids to count the number of rubber ducks in a box or find the yellow duckies in a scene painted entirely yellow.
There were also a number of “ducky dioramas,” including a camping scene, a movie theater, a working Ferris wheel, a park and a concert — all designed and built by the Scouts themselves.
Everything delighted Liz Smith and her son, Asher.
“We were so happy to help the kids at Children’s Hospital,” she says. “But also, my son has been so bored at home, and he was so excited to pick out a toy and slide it down the duck slide.”
What’s next for Zoe
Even after she joins the Inaugural Class of Female Eagle Scouts next year, Zoe’s Scouting career will be far from over.
She’s excited for Sea Base next June and plans to continue to camp with her troop. They have camped together every month — in sun, rain, snow and pandemic — since the troop was formed last year. When the troop has to meet virtually, Zoe and her troopmates still camp together — albeit in their separate backyards.
Now an assistant senior patrol leader, Zoe looks forward to more leadership opportunities and inspiring the Scouts around her to look for opportunities to serve and grow — “not for rank or title, but simply for the joy of Scouting.”