"At seven years old, making other people happy was my passion. So I could build upon that and help others using that," she said.
Grace Callwood was only seven years old when she received a shocking diagnosis: Stage IV non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, which develops when cancer of the lymphatic system has spread to other areas of the body. "I was the type of kid that never liked to miss school or anything, but we had to go to the doctors," she recalled to PEOPLE. "I had no idea what cancer was or really what it meant until I had it. Then, I just knew that my life had changed completely."
Callwood reveals that while she was in the hospital, she noticed several other kids who were sick. But many, according to her, lacked a proper support system. She decided to change that.
As her first kind act, she gave two young girls who had lost their house in a fire her brand-new back-to-school clothes. "All I could think about was how I related to those two little girls, just in that we had both entered life-changing situations," Callwood said, adding, "I had become a critically ill child, and they had become homeless within an instant." This random act of kindness would lead her to found the We Cancerve Movement, a nonprofit group she made to serve marginalized young people.
She has also raised and donated $300,000 to nine pediatric oncology facilities and has collected nearly $500,000 in donations. "Happiness has always been a huge thing for me," Callwood said. "I like making people happy and seeing other people happy. Everyone talks about finding your passion and building from there. And at seven years old, making other people happy was my passion. So I could build upon that and help others using that," she added.
In 2015, Callwood established, Camp Happy, in her native state as a free day camp for homeless children during the summer. Three programs for transitional housing for homeless families were subsequently developed. By 2020, that initiative had been extended to include kids attending Title I schools and foster care group homes. Callwood also unveiled an entirely virtual version of Camp Happy, which benefits kids all over the globe and a free full-service boutique that offers shoes, clothes, and jewelry for teen girls living in foster care groups.
However, some of Callwood's well-known initiatives had to be altered in recent years as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. She nonetheless changed, engaging with underserved communities and foster care group homes to provide one-day programs rather than weekly events. In addition, Callwood will begin her second week of service as a student page at the State House in Annapolis while she waits for college acceptance letters.
She most sincerely hopes that sharing her experience will encourage others to do good. "Every little bit helps," she said. "People donating one time, or giving one thing, or deciding to go to a service project even only for a little while, will make a difference. The impact can be amazing."
Cover Image Source: Facebook | Grace Callwood