Seven kids who lead with kindness

There are some amazing kids out there. Kids who are selfless, compassionate and empathetic, kids who look at the world and do their part to be the change they want to see. Meet seven of them.

The magic of unicorns: Galilea Gonzalez, 10

When Galilea Gonzalez was 6 and visited her grandfather in the hospital, she drew him a picture of a unicorn. Noticing it immediately made him feel better, she decided that every child patient needed something to make them happy, too.

So Galilea, with help from her mom, Carmina, began making and selling bath salts. The Des Plaines girl used all of the proceeds to buy stuffed unicorns, and she hand-delivered more than 300 of them in a wagon to patients at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and Shriners Hospital for Children in Chicago.

“Unicorns are my spirt animal,” Galilea says. “They are magical, courageous and strong, and I think they will make people who get them feel that way, too.”

Galilea’s Unicorn Project has been recognized nationally: she is the recipient of Disney Channel “Lead like Elena” award, and she has earned a Reflecting Excellence award from Reflejos bilingual newspaper in Chicago.

“I tell her every day that I’m proud of her,” Carmina says. “She was an emergency C-section and almost didn’t make it in the world. She’s done so much in her short life to be proud of.”

Over the holidays, Galilea plans to create and distribute baggies for the homeless, stuffed with toothbrushes, toothpaste and personal hygiene products.“I want to always make everyone smile,” she says.

A voice for all: Molly Pinta, 13

After attending a Pride parade in Aurora in 2018 with her mother, then-12-year-old Molly Pinta decided on the drive home that her community of Buffalo Grove needed to host its own parade.

Molly, who had only come out to her parents, recorded a video publicly coming out and asking for monetary assistance via GoFundMe to organize a parade in Buffalo Grove.

“It spread like wildfire,” says Molly (now 13), who initially raised more than $15,000. “People from all over the place supported us. And I say ‘us’ because this wasn’t just about me. It was about everyone in the LGBT community.”

Molly saw her dream come true on June 2 when Buffalo Grove hosted its first Pride Parade, spearheaded by Molly, sporting her signature rainbow locks. An estimated 9,000 marched in and attended the event.

Since the parade, Molly’s family started a nonprofit called The Pinta Pride Project. The organization hosts monthly events for LGBT families who want a place to connect. Events have ranged from prom to drag queen story hour in partnership with the local library. Additionally, Molly founded a Gay Straight Alliance at her middle school, Twin Groves.

“I live in a privileged bubble where my family loves and accepts me, but not everyone is as lucky as I am,” she says. “People in the LGBT community need support, and we want to provide connections to people who will hear, accept and lift them up. Everyone deserves that.”

The fundraiser: Belaye Hughes, 12

Ask anyone in Evanston who the mayor is, and likely, they’ll tell you it is Belaye Hughes, a 12-year-old sixth-grader who seems to know everyone.

Hughes was adopted from Ethiopia when he was 3. When he and his mother, Kristine Nesslar, visited his extended family in Ethiopia this summer, there was a political uprising and a mob looted the lodge they were staying in, forcing them to escape into a forest. While they made it back safely through evacuation by the military, their driver and translator, Abreham Gebre, wasn’t so lucky. The young father’s car was set on fire, putting him out of a job.

Upon returning to Chicago, Belaye made it his mission to raise money for Abreham. Every day for 10 days, he set up a lemonade stand at Lee Street Beach, where he encouraged people to donate via Facebook Live. He and his mom also spearheaded a GoFundMe effort.

“He was really impacted by what he saw,” Kristine says. “He wanted to find a way to not feel helpless.”In late September, Belaye’s efforts paid off. More than $45,000 was wired to Abreham to buy a new van.

“I hope Abreham feels like he has someone he can rely on and that we have his back,” Belaye says.

Reading for a purpose: Priscilla Villarreal, 9

Priscilla Villarreal has loved reading books since she was a baby. Her mom, Kristal Leon, says she always carries a book.Earlier this year, Priscilla, of Bellwood, launched her own YouTube channel, “Storytime with Priscilla,” where she reads children’s books from up-and-coming authors. They pay a fee of $30, and Priscilla donates all of the proceeds to Magnificent Mutts & Meows Rescue, a nonprofit, no-kill animal shelter. In addition, Priscilla visits the shelter to spend time with and read to the animals.

Studies have shown that reading brings comfort to animals and reduces anxiety in shelter pets. Priscilla, an animal lover who rescued two hound dogs – 6-year-old Honey Bee and 2-year-old Lady Bird – says she’s lucky she gets to combine her love for reading and animals to make a difference.

“I feel happy that I can help encourage kids to read more and I can help rescue animals feel safe and loved,” Priscilla says.

After reading the books in shelters, Priscilla donates them to the Family Life Center at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago so the young patients can enjoy the books.

“I am so proud of Priscilla and her big heart,” Krystal says. “I love that she is doing something she loves and is helping change lives.”

The little elves: Connor & Jack Darge, 9

Every September, when twins Connor and Jack Darge’s birthday rolls around, they don’t expect presents. Since they were 3, the Chicago brothers have been using their birthday money to buy toys for children in Swedish Covenant Hospital. Every year around the holidays, they wear elf hats and hand deliver the toys with their nanny Darin Ortmann.

“It makes me feel good to deliver the toys, because these children may not get to have Christmas,” Jack says. “It is our duty to deliver them.”

Darin, who shops with the boys in the fall for Legos, Barbies, books, action figures and more, says they’ve donated more than 2,500 toys in the last six years.

“It has taught them the true meaning of the holidays,” he says.

Last year, they even expanded their efforts to involve their classes, who made handmade cards for adult patients. This holiday season, they will work with the Northcenter Chamber of Commerce to collect new, unwrapped toys. Toy or monetary donations may also be made at Loafer’s Bar, where Darin works.

“We’re basically kid Santa Clauses,” Connor says. “And our parents are proud of us because we showed them that we love to give and not just get.”

A heart of gold: Sofia Sanchez, 12

Sofia Sanchez stole the world’s hearts when a video she made singing to Drake’s music from her hospital room went viral. At the time, Sofia was at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital awaiting a new heart after being diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle that often leads to heart failure and the need for a heart transplant to survive. 

Shortly after making the video, she received the two biggest shocks of her life: a surprise visit from Drake himself (who she has now become friends with), and the new heart she had been praying for.

“I felt so happy when I heard I was getting a new heart because I knew I was going to survive and be able to go home,” Sofia says.

Now, 16 months after her nine-hour, life-saving surgery, Sofia is thriving. The 12-year-old sixth-grader from Downers Grove is on two cheerleading squads and plays softball.

She’s also made it her mission to spread the word about organ donation, as she starred in an ad campaign to share her story and encourage people to sign up for the Illinois Secretary of State’s Organ/Tissue Donor Registry.

“Organ donation is so important because it saves lives and gives people like me a second chance,” Sofia says. “Even though there’s a tragedy involved, something good could come out of it.”

About 300 people in Illinois die each year waiting for an organ transplant.

“I am making my donor’s gift matter by staying healthy and living my best life,” Sofia says.

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This article originally published in December 2019 issue. Read the rest of the issue.  

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