When the Ecumenical Institute in Baltimore honors people for their extraordinary ministry with their Making a Difference Award, the award is a loaf of bread and a bottle of wine. When Grace Ellen Gibson Callwood received the award Jan. 4, she got juice and cookies. Callwood is in the third grade.
A member of Ames United Methodist Church in Bel Air, she is the youngest person to receive the award. She also recently was declared cancer-free. On Feb. 6 Callwood completed chemotherapy, but her illness contributed to the creation of her non-profit ministry, “We Cancerve,” a movement to mobilize ready resources and creative ideas to help homeless, sick and foster children.
On her seventh birthday, Callwood’s mother T’Jae Gibson remembers, Grace went to the doctor with an enlarged lymph node behind her ear. Cancer was detected in her lymph nodes and bone marrow and a harrowing series of surgeries followed. “When I get a spinal tap,” Callwood told an ABC news reporter, “when I go into the room, they always have a bunch of toys on the bed that I go on to.”
The more medical procedures she had, the more toys she received. That was when Grace’s heart of gold really shone, Gibson said. The pair talked about the toys and decided to take them to Harford Family House, the largest provider of transitional housing for homeless families with children in Harford County.
Caring about and helping other children while she struggled with the cancer, ignited something in Callwood that her family says has always been present: “Grace,” they say, “loves to give.”
Since 2011, after being diagnosed with stage IV Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, Callwod has been on a steady regime of steroids, which has made her gain weight. Shortly after her diagnosis, she learned that a pair of elementary-aged girls living at the Harford Family House needed school clothes. She no longer fit into the clothes she had gotten for school, so she donated the brand-new back-to-school outfits to the girls for Christmas.
Her mother supported all of Callwood’s instincts to give to others. These family conversations led to the creation of “We Cancerve,” and the giving continued. In Sept. 2012, her mother reports, Callwood hosted a lemonade sale in recognition of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and National Lymphoma Awareness Month. She rallied support of neighborhood friends and raised $633.32, which was split and donated evenly to the Casey Cares Foundation and Sinai Hospital-Baltimore.
Last Easter, Callwood recruited her church’s youth ministry to help her donate 72 miniature Easter Baskets to children residing at Harford Family House. Last summer, she hand-crafted 32 beaded key chains and collected hundreds of small toiletry items to create more than 50 personal care packets for girls residing at Arrow Christian Family Group Home, a transitional housing complex for female foster children who are preparing for emancipation.
Callwood recruited adults and children in her “Threads of Hope” initiative, which resulted in more than 50 back-to-school outfits (top, bottom and socks) donated to children residing at Harford Family House.
In all this giving, she says she has learned that “lots of families have new, gently used goods and under-imagined treasures that could be put to good use for those less fortunate or those who could benefit from gifts and acts of kindness.”
Callwood has named 10 young people, ages 9-17, boys and girls to serve on her board of advisors and is building her website (WeCancerve.org) to showcase ways others can serve homeless, sick, and foster children. Organizing her efforts enables more people to be involved, but at the heart of it all, Gibson said, Grace just cares about reaching out to help others.
“Since she was three, this child has called God her best friend. Jesus is next on her list. I come in third,” Gibson said.
“That’s good with me. I understand the center of her joy.”
At the Jan. 4 award ceremony, the Rev. Wanda Duckett, who presented the award, spoke about what a “world changer” Callwood had become. “Despite her own health challenges, she opens her heart to others in ways that are spiritually mature and youthfully authentic,” Duckett said. “Grace’s witness is an example to every generation of the impact that one person can have on her community – no excuses.”
Duckett also reflected on how Grace’s name is the perfect metaphor for what she does. Grace gives. Grace saves. Grace inspires.
For more information on this ministry, contact PeopleWhoCare@WeCancerve.org..
Reprinted with the permission of the UMConnection.