Children’s Hospital receives donation of $6,000 worth of Legos

One Illinois robotics team brings together its community and school each year to raise money for UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital patients.

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Children’s Hospital receives donation of $6,000 worth of Legos

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Josie Fischels, News Reporter

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When former head basketball coach Mark Lofgren’s 2-year-old son was diagnosed with Burkitt lymphoma in 2016, he and his family were met with overwhelming support from their hometown of Riverdale, Illinois.

“Riverdale is a small school,” Riverdale High School robotics coach Jason Dennhardt said. “At our high school, we have around 300 students. So when something like that happens, people kind of rally around it. We kind of wanted to be a part of that, too.”

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Dennhardt’s robotics team was just one of the many groups that set out to raise money for Lofgren’s son and family. However, Dennhardt said, by the time the team had a platform to raise funds, the family had received an overwhelming number of donations.

Dennhardt said the Lofgren family began asking the community to give money to other families who were experiencing the same struggles they were.

“We decided we still wanted to do something — just trying to help out those other families and pediatric patients,” he said.

For Dennhardt and the students on the Riverdale Rams robotics team, that “something” became raising money to buy Lego sets for the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital. Over the past three years, the team has raised more than $6,000 to buy 240 brand-new Lego sets for pediatric patients.

The fundraiser began as a system in which the community could pledge money based on how many points the team earned during its meets, Dennhardt said, but the process has become much simpler in the past two years. Both this year and last year before the first home meet, the team has raised the money through a school-wide, competition-based initiative for classrooms to compete to win Chick-fil-A.

I like to think that, as a team, our actions bring a little bit of hope to children at the hospital.”

— Aleck Reece

“Every fifth hour, we went around to the classrooms and asked for donations,” said Ella Fornero-Green, the team’s lead programmer. “Whichever class raised the most dollars-per-student amount for that class, we’d buy them Chick-fil-A for lunch.”

Dennhardt said the initiative has been a huge success, helping the team to raise $3,500 for Lego sets last year and nearly $1,600 so far this year.

“For me, it’s really great knowing that I can help [patients] and make them happy, or at least happier in the situation they’re in,” Fornero-Green said. “That makes me feel really good.”

For Aleck Reece, one of the team members responsible for designing and building the robot, the feeling is mutual.

“I like to think that, as a team, our actions bring a little bit of hope to children at the hospital,” he said.

Gift Guild volunteers and Stead Child Life staff said the team’s annual donations are always a hit among patients.

“Legos are a consistent popular item for a wide variety of kids because they can do so much with them, and they always seem excited to see a Lego option as a prize for a hard test or procedure,” Sheri Austin of UIHC Concierge Services said on behalf of the organizations.

Austin said that for patients who remain in the hospital for long periods of time, Legos can help keep kids occupied.

“They’re just wonderful,” she said. “On behalf of UIHC, we truly appreciate this very generous donation for our patients.”

The team plans on carrying on its fundraising mission in the future, continuing to help families such as the Lofgrens by providing toys to boost pediatric patient’s mental well-being while undergoing treatment.