L-W North student leads effort to brighten hospital stay for children

Dakota Mashak is collecting donations to purchase gifts for children at Hope Children's Hospital in Oak Lawn.

A Lincoln-Way North high School senior has launched his third annual “Help for Hope” charity, raising money to purchase gifts for children who are hospitalized during the holidays.

“It feels wonderful to do something for someone else,” said 17-year-old Dakota Mashak who knows firsthand how miserable a hospital stay can be -- especially for a child.

When he was in junior high, Dakota was diagnosed with spinal stenosis and underwent surgery to treat a herniated disc in his lower back. The hospital stay and lengthy recovery process made him think about the kids who spend weeks, months, or even years in a hospital.

“During my hospital stay, I realized how lonely the other kids were,” he said. “I knew what it felt like to be in a hospital, scared of what was to come.”

So when Dakota entered high school and learned students were expected to complete 20 hours of community service as a graduation requirement, he immediately came up with a plan to help cheer up the kids at Hope Children's Hospital in Oak Lawn.

“I knew even the littlest thing, even a piece of candy, would be something that would brighten the day a little bit for kids in the hospital,” he said.

Dakota initiated a campaign called “Help for Hope” and began collecting monetary donations with the help of the school's Key Club that would enable him to purchase gifts for the children staying at Hope Children's Hospital during the holidays.

Hospital officials provided Dakota with a list of gifts that are acceptable to children fighting infections and diseases so that he and his mom (who do the shopping together) know what to purchase.

So far, Dakota has managed to raise about $2,200 each year for the project. He hopes to raise $3,000 this year and is in the process of collecting donations.

“It seems to be going pretty well,” said Dakota, as he collected donations alongside fellow Key Club members during a recent lunch period at the school.

The high school senior plans to collect donations through Nov. 16. Community members who wish to help may send a check (payable to Lincoln-Way North High School) to the school, located at 19900 S. Harlem Ave., Frankfort.

Social science teacher and Key Club sponsor Matt Jordan who is overseeing the collection efforts said he is impressed with Dakota’s compassion and drive to help others.

“This is a project completed planned, publicized and run by a student,” he said.

For accounting purposes, Dakota is required collect three receipts every time he makes a purchase -- one for himself, one for the school and a third as a gift receipt.

He and his mother plan to start shopping shortly so that they can deliver the gifts to Hope Children's Hospital by Dec. 20.

“It's not easy (shopping for hundreds of gifts),” said Dakota, “but it's fun.”

Helping others is something Dakota hopes to continue as a profession. He plans to attend college after graduating from Lincoln-Way North and pursue a degree in communications or business.

“(Helping others) is just fun,” he said.

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