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Ella Edwards, Young Volunteer of the Year

Photo by David Trozzo

Birthdays are supposed to be happy occasions – especially for a child. But on Ella Edwards ninth birthday, she received some devasting news. She was diagnosed with a rare pediatric bone cancer, Ewing’s Sarcoma. 

That day was also a turning point for Ella in a different way. She witnessed the generosity of strangers. “It was her birthday and they showered her with gifts and a cake,” said Jen Edwards, Ella’s mom. “People were so generous. I think she realized how much of a difference it made for her and the other kids, so she wanted to do that for others. It changed her. It brought out something in her that I had never seen.

“Ella and all the kids in the hospital were my teachers,” added Jen. “They were just in the moment and they didn’t worry about the chemo next week; they didn’t think ahead. It was a good lesson to find the good in the moment and hold onto that. And, when something bad happens, there is always an opportunity to do something for someone else. I think when you take that step to do something kind for someone else, it helps you as well.”

Ella took that step. Despite the toll the disease took on her body, the experience inspired Ella to raise more than $50,000 for pediatric cancer research through her lemonade stands and fundraising. Ella also wanted to make an impact in her own community, so just a year after her diagnosis, she was collecting toys and organizing blood drives. In 2019, “Team Ella,” now the EllaStrong Foundation, hosted its first drive for the Geaton and JoAnn DeCesaris Family Foundation Pediatric Emergency Department and Inpatient Unit at Luminis Health Anne Arundel Medical Center (LH A AMC). After learning that they needed colorful character Band-Aids for their youngest patients, Ella took to social media, reached out to friends and family, and pounded the pavement for donations. In just one week, Ella delivered nearly 20,000 Band-Aids to LH AAMC and the oncology floor of Children’s National Medical Center. 

“The hospital can be a stressful place for a sick or injured child,” said LH AAMC Child Life Specialist Sam Couto. “Anytime there is an opportunity for a smile, it makes the experience a little easier. Ella Edwards has made hundreds of smiles at LH AAMC.”

After that, Ella hosted a toy drive and surpassed her goal of getting 500 toys delivered for hospitalized children including LH A AMC, Believe in Tomorrow Children’s House, Ronald McDonald House Charities, University of Maryland Medical Center, and The Johns Hopkins Hospital. During the pandemic, she arranged to drop off protective gowns, home-made masks for staff and patients, and Build-a-Bears for the pediatric emergency room patients.

Currently an honor-roll student at St. Mary’s High School in Annapolis, Ella plays three school sports, is an ambassador for Just In Power Kids, and still makes time to raise funds and awareness for pediatric cancer.
“We are truly grateful to Ella and her family for their constant time, support, and generosity,” said nominator Jan Woods formerly of LH AAMC Foundation. “Not a month goes by where we don’t hear from Ella, asking to see the latest pediatric wish list so she can make a difference in the lives of some of the youngest patients at LH AAMC.”

Ella was nominated by Luminis Health Anne Arundel Medical Center Foundation.

The Young Volunteer of the Year Award is presented to an individual student or youth group (elementary through college) who has demonstrated extraordinary commitment to the community through direct financial support, development of charitable programs, volunteering and/or leadership. 

Go back to 2022 Awardees