Spencer Rhoten was four-years-old when his sister was hospitalized in the ICU with a sudden illness during a family vacation to Disney World. “I remember being terrified,” Spencer says, “I’d never been in a hospital before and I remember not knowing if she was going to die.” His older sister, Katharine, was eventually diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes and is healthy today. Realizing how calm and comforted his sister would become after receiving an item like a stuffed animal whenever she had to go through a difficult procedure, the two siblings decided to pay the kindness Katharine received forward by sharing that comfort with other hospitalized children.
Creating Katherine’s Wish in 2008, the two Eau Claire, Wisconsin siblings volunteer to comfort and bring cheer to pediatric patients hospitalized around the U.S., Canada, Mexico and Puerto Rico. Initially donating gifts and currently soliciting financial grants for close to 100 hospitals and clinics, 16-year-old Spencer has helped to provide hospitals with over $250,000 in donations to bring joy to thousands of hospitalized children.
What inspires you to volunteer?
I am inspired to reassure and comfort sick children by the memories we still have of Katharine being sick. It feels good to know I’m helping kids going through a difficult time.
Describe your role with Katharine’s Wish.
As the co-founder of Katharine’s Wish, I do a lot of public speaking locally to raise awareness about our volunteerism and solicit donations. The mission of Katharine’s Wish is something I dedicate my time to: “the heart of healing, one smile at a time.”
Share one personal story with me from your volunteerism.
We receive pictures and letters from families of the children who receive our donations, and it makes all of our service worth it. The letters will explain how thankful these families are to us for helping them during a hard time in their life, and how comforted their child is by our donation. We’ll sometimes hear from families years after their child has received a donation, saying that their child still has the item we gifted them.
What’s one way you hope to inspire others in your service?
Anyone can give back, no matter what your situation. If you’re passionate about a cause you can start a charity and pay it back just like we have.
What’s been the most rewarding part of your service?
Turning such a personally traumatic experience into something so positive. You can live as a victim or an advocate. We chose to be advocates.
What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?
Everybody wants to be loved and wants to know that someone is thinking of them, and that is what we accomplish through our service.
Does Katie have any toys left from when she was hospitalized?
Yes! Rufus the bear, who has diabetes. He has a medical ID bracelet and patches on him that show where he can receive insulin shots.
When you are not in school or volunteering, what do you do for fun?
I’m really, really into music. I just released an EP called “Princess Charming” under my recording name, Spencer Douglas. The majority of our proceeds will be donated to Katharine’s Wish.
How can readers help?
Please visit our website for more information about how you can help: http://www.katharineswish.org/.
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Spencer Rhoten? Find local volunteer opportunities.