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Giving back

In today’s fast-paced world, thinking about others sometimes becomes an afterthought - but one Whitehall-Coplay School District second-grader completed her mission to cheer up sick and injured children at Lehigh Valley Reilly Children’s Hospital Nov. 19.

Grace Sulter, a student at Steckel Elementary School, brought baskets of books and crafts to the hospital to help make the children’s stay there a little brighter. She was assisted by her mother, Kelly Sulter; brother Noah Sulter; and Gockley Elementary School gym teacher Austin Berg and his son. Toni Fillman, Whitehall-Coplay PTO PLUS president, accompanied them.

“It chokes me up even when we talk about it,” Fillman said.

It all started on a mid-October day when Grace was looking for an activity to occupy her time. Her mother mentioned they could make bracelets.

“Well, she was bored one day, and I came up with this idea, so we were making them together for fun,” Kelly Sulter said. “And that’s when she said, ‘Mommy, I should make these and sell them.’ And I said, ‘What would you do with the money?’ She said, ‘I would buy more books for the kids in the hospital.’”

“I care for the kids in the hospital because I spent some time there,” Grace said.

At the end of kindergarten, Grace fell backward off a swing at her friend’s house and fractured her knee. She had a long wait in the emergency room and left with a cast and crutches.

“Last spring, she injured the same knee again,” Kelly Sulter said. “She was climbing an apple tree and ripped open her knee and got 30 stitches.”

Grace knows being in the hospital can be scary for kids.

“Maybe if they are allowed to read a book or do something so they are distracted, they won’t think of getting hurt and won’t feel so bad,” she said.

The colorful, custom-made bracelets were created out of beads and rubber band material and sold for $3. In less than two weeks, Grace had received many orders for the bracelets and made approximately $250.

Second-grade teacher Bonnie Strauss helped her sell the bracelets at school and distribute the orders. They were mostly sold to teachers, friends of teachers and family members.

“She worked very hard on this project, and I hope she understands how much those books will mean to the children at the hospital,” Strauss said. “What a wonderful way to brighten their day. Plus, the bracelets are adorable. They practically sold themselves. Everywhere I went, someone would want to order Grace’s bracelets. She is a super-special little girl.”

News of Grace’s bracelets went viral, prompting the creation of a Facebook page, Gracie’s Bracelets For Books.

“People are still asking for bracelets, so now we have to find something else to do, find another charity to give it to,” Kelly Sulter said.

Kelly Sulter, a reading support paraprofessional at Zephyr Elementary School, has always encouraged literacy skills at home. Grace, an avid reader from a young age, reads multiple books at a time. There are stacks of books, such as the “Dork Diaries” and “The Baby-Sitters Club” series in her room at home.

From the start, Grace knew what she wanted to buy with the money.

“I spent it on books for the kids in the hospital,” she said. “Some people even donated books.”

Grace and her mother went to 2nd & Charles, a bookstore on MacArthur Road, Whitehall, and left with bags of books and crafts.

This wasn’t her first time buying books for the hospital, as she delivered a basket of books last year.

“She did a reading challenge through a friend of ours who sells Usborne books. She got pledges, and she had to read so many books,” Kelly Sulter said. “She went way above and beyond and earned $150. She used $50 of that and bought books for the kids in the hospital. She was still recovering from her first leg injury when that happened,” Kelly Sulter said.

Before bringing the books and crafts to the hospital, Grace and her mother put them in baskets.

“For the baskets, we were getting stuff to cover them up, like fabric,” Grace said. “My mom asked if we should get Christmassy or kiddish ones. I said kiddish because not everyone celebrates Christmas.”

Grace’s generosity finally paid off when she brought her donations to the hospital. Unfortunately, due to her age and the health risks involved, Grace was unable to personally deliver the books to the children’s wing.

“She actually brought a book that she wanted to read to the kids, but she wasn’t allowed to,” Kelly Sulter said.

The book Grace chose was called “At the Hospital,” by Ipek Konak.

Fillman is always looking for examples of kindness like Grace’s.

“I look for these kids. Every school board meeting, I try to say something good that a child did because we have so much bad in the world,” Fillman said. “I just feel that Whitehall should hear all the good things.

“That she’s 8 years old and has the capability of thinking so far beyond her years to be helping people at such a young age - I just think she deserved to be recognized,” she added.

Grace is already thinking of what she can make next.

“I have a giant roll of pink string, and since I have a ton of different types of beads that could fit on the string, I’m going to probably make some necklaces,” she said.

“I’m super proud of her because one thing that’s really important to me is teaching kindness - to be kind to everyone, no matter what - and instilling that a little bit of kindness goes a long way,” Kelly Sulter said.

This Thanksgiving, Grace said she is thankful she was able to do something nice for other children.

“She is really a perfect example of Thanksgiving and of what Thanksgiving should be,” Fillman said.

Grace Sulter looks over books at 2nd & Charles, MacArthur Road, Whitehall, while deciding which ones to donate to Lehigh Valley Reilly Children's Hospital. She sold handmade bracelets to raise funds to buy the books.Contributed photos