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Fundraiser game makes 100th ‘dream room’ come true

Northview — Addison Forbes has taken part in her district’s biggest fundraiser since at least middle school. The Northview High senior’s family has long purchased T-shirts to wear to the high school’s annual Black Out for Pediatric Cancer football games that they bought to support the effort. 

And Addison remembers a group of swimmers visiting her middle-school team, their faces stamped with black handprints students have long worn on game day to raise awareness of the cause.

“It was really inspiring to see (people) we really looked up to, recommending we support that cause, to do something easy to make a change in so many people’s lives.”

The princess-themed 100th dream room (courtesy)

Case in point: There’s a hospital room in downtown Grand Rapids that is fit for a princess, and that particular royal has the Northview district community to thank for those fundraisers over the last 15 years that have contributed to 100 “dream rooms” — and counting.

The district’s annual Black Out Pediatric Cancer football games have benefitted pediatric cancer patients and families at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital since 2009.

Every year since 2008 the Wildcats have hosted a benefit football game, from which all proceeds support the foundation and the Pediatric Oncology Resource Team. Dream rooms are created for children who undergo bone marrow transplants and must be in the hospital for a lengthy period afterward with very few visitors. 

Watch how the 100th dream room at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital came together, thanks to funds raised by Northview Public Schools’ Black Out Pediatric Cancer fundraisers.

The annual fundraiser started with 250 T-shirts for sale. This past fall, about 2,000 were sold. Players’ jerseys are also sponsored by donors to raise additional funds.

Brenda Dykema, chair of the event, was a PORT volunteer whose son was a Northview football player when she conceived of the fundraiser based on her volunteer work and learning from another Northview parent about their child’s hospital experience. 

For the dream rooms, Brenda and a partner at PORT learn about the interests of every child, then shop for decor and prepare their rooms. She speaks to Northview students every year before the game.

At the 2023 Black Out game, from left, are the Calder family, Dr. James Fahner, division chief of pediatric hematology/oncology at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital and Melissa Wittlinger, PORT director (courtesy)

“It’s always good to have something to show people (what they are contributing to), (and) it’s good for the students to see pictures and to hear about (dream rooms) because they can relate,” Dykema said. 

Dykema was there when the 100th dream room was unveiled to the young patient and her family. 

“It was probably one of the most gratifying things in my life, to see the look on her face and even more so her parents,” she recalled. “I just kept thinking of that, as a parent: what if (my child) had to walk into a (sterile) hospital room?”

Addison can relate. Her bedroom is an extension of her personality, she said, filled with her swim medals and posters, polaroid photos of friends, art by a friend and various mementos.

“I imagine it’s so alienating, going through this life-changing process that is such a change from your normal life. And these procedures hurt. … And then you don’t get to return to a comforting space?”

The Black Out fundraisers have long become part of the culture at Northview, she said. 

“It’s astounding to see. It’s not just a school thing; it’s a community thing. It’s just one of the ways that Northview is wired.”

Read more from Northview: 
Student journalists weigh in on book challenges
Students, community help kids with cancer

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a reporter and copy editor, covering Northview. She is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio


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