Lena teammates serve up kindness

Volleyball team volunteers at Ronald McDonald House, a tradition inspired by Lena youth who died of leukemia

LENA — Sept. 19, 2015. It’s a day that holds both sadness and joy for the small community of Lena.

It was on this day that 10-year-old Kyle Hodkiewicz lost his two-year battle with leukemia. Though the sports-loving kid who never complained about his illness is missed, his determined spirit and faith have not been forgotten.

Members of the Lena High School Girls Volleyball Team are pictured around a Christmas tree at the Ronald McDonald House in Milwaukee, where the team spent a day volunteering in December. (Submitted Photo | For The Compass)

Since his death, Kyle has inspired countless efforts to help families and individuals suffering from medical ailments. These efforts include those of the Lena High School Girls Volleyball Team, which has traveled to the Milwaukee Ronald McDonald House for the last three years to deliver donations and prepare food for families at the hospital.

For junior Alayna Peterson, it’s an opportunity to bring people together for a good cause.

“It’s really nice to be able to go down and help these families, especially with knowing a family that went through that and how tough it is,” Peterson said.

The team volunteered on Dec. 2, sporting orange T-shirts representing leukemia awareness. Diapers and other baby supplies were delivered, and the girls made snack bags for families to eat throughout the day.

The idea to volunteer at the Ronald McDonald House came shortly after Kyle’s passing. Coach Heidi Place said the girls wanted to show their support for teammate Kaitlyn Hodkiewicz, Kyle’s sister, as well as all families going through similar situations.

“After talking to the girls, they agreed that they would like to volunteer their time to go and make brunch for the families staying there,” Place said.

Peterson, 16, has volunteered all three years and is currently preparing for confirmation at St. Anne Parish in Lena, along with fellow teammate and volunteer Madysen Herald. In addition to volleyball, Peterson plays basketball and is a member of the National Honor Society and the Oconto County Partnership.

Peterson said volunteering has been a terrific experience for everyone involved, though there was a bit of a learning curve.

“The first year was kind of crazy because we didn’t know what we were doing and it was chaotic,” Peterson said. “We kind of have it down to a science now.”

Mike Hodkiewicz, Kyle’s grandfather, said his family is very proud of the work the volleyball team is doing at the Ronald McDonald House because they know from experience how important it is.

“We spent seven months down there as a family, and we were so appreciative of all the people that came in from these organizations and volunteered their time,” Hodkiewicz said. “They paid for all the food and prepared it. We thought it would be really great if there was some way this community and our family could do that. It’s an idea that’s just taken off. Heidi Place and the girls just do it.”

Mike and his wife, Mary, have both volunteered with the team, and parents of the players also make the trip.

Other area groups have been inspired to help families in need. The Lena basketball teams continue to hold fund raisers while other M&O Conference schools host cancer nights. Oconto Falls sent its Hoops Club to the Ronald McDonald House and will have an orange night on Jan. 19 for leukemia awareness. Proceeds from these events go to groups like Families of Children with Cancer.

Place said all the girls have learned that kindness can go a long way, and that the team will continue to volunteer at the Ronald McDonald House.

“The simple act of making brunch for the families makes their lives a little easier when caring for loved ones in the hospital,” Place said.

Hodkiewicz said the Lena girls are learning valuable lessons by donating their time to these families. As for Peterson and Herald, Hodkiewicz said their faith will grow stronger as they continue to help those in need.

“I think it’s giving them more of an understanding of what’s in front of them and how they can give back to the community,” Hodkiewicz said. “I think this is a great way to prepare them for confirmation.”

Despite being a small community, Peterson said Lena rallies big when it comes to participation in cancer nights at sporting events and fundraisers for cancer awareness.

“The community has really just come together in the name of Kyle, and to help out not just Kyle’s family, but tons of families,” Peterson said, adding that volunteering has shown her that she can have a positive impact on the lives of others, which will help her grow in her faith.

“It’s nice to know that we are helping them with this and just making their day a little better,” she said. “They always come up to us and tell us how thankful they are.”