PEI

Thankful to Children's Wish, young Island authors giving back in memory of sister

When Gracie and Emma Van Donkersgoed run, slide and swing on the playset at their home in Valleyfield, P.E.I., they're reminded of their sister, Sarah.

'When Sarah got a wish, she was really happy that she did'

Sisters Emma, left, and Gracie Van Donkersgoed have published a children's book with their own poetry and artwork. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC)

When Gracie and Emma Van Donkersgoed run, slide and swing on the playset at their home in Valleyfield, P.E.I., they're reminded of their sister, Sarah.

"She really liked the swings and the slides," said Gracie, age 10. 

Sarah died in December 2014, at just three years old.

The playground was built in the family's backyard the summer before she died, by the Children's Wish Foundation. 

Five years later, Gracie and Emma are finding a way to give back to the charity, by donating money from the sales of their new children's book.

School project turned book

Gracie and Emma have spent months writing poetry and creating artwork for their very own children's book — a series of poems about finding the perfect pet. 

It all started as schoolwork for the sisters, who are home schooled. 

Anne Van Donkersgoed plays with her daughters Gracie and Emma on the playground at their home, which was built for Sarah, who died in 2014. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC)

"We learned how to put words together that rhymed and we learned how to do cool things with art," said Gracie.

With those skills, and some help from their mother, the sisters are now published authors, with 100 copies printed and ready to be sold. 

'It's a blessing'

Their mother, Anne Van Donkersgoed, was glad to see their perseverance to complete the project. But her moment of true pride came when the girls brought up the idea of donating some of the proceeds to the P.E.I. chapter of the Children's Wish Foundation.

Not once but twice has Van Donkersgoed experienced the joy and comfort that the charity's wishes can bring. Emma, 8, has a heart defect, and was also a Children's Wish recipient not long before Sarah.

Anne Van Donkersgoed said the wishes two of her daughters received through the Children's Wish Foundation were a blessing for her family. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC)

"No parent wants a children's wish. But at the worst time in your life, it's a blessing, because you have this joy in the midst of struggle. And we certainly appreciate it. We're very thankful," said Van Donkersgoed. 

Van Donkersgoed said Sarah's playground brought joy to her daughter in her final months, who spent time swinging as long as she was able. 

"And as she got sicker, and as the pressure in her chest made it uncomfortable to swing, she took joy in other people pushing her sisters on the swings. And she would sit in her chair and watch them."

Sarah Van Donkersgoed got her own playground thanks to the Children's Wish Foundation, which was built in 2014, the summer before she died. (Submitted by Ed and Anne Van Donkersgoed)

The sisters are selling their books for $15, with $2 from each purchase going to the Children's Wish Foundation.

They hope any money they donate will help another kid — and family — experience the joy of a wish. 

"Because when Sarah got a wish, she was really happy that she did," said Gracie. 

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About the Author

Sarah MacMillan is a journalist with CBC P.E.I. You can contact her at sarah.macmillan@cbc.ca

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