ALAMO — What began as a spontaneous birthday party on the first anniversary of Joshua Woodfin’s death has grown into a multi-state ministry that is bringing smiles to children suffering with leukemia and other longterm illnesses.
Eighteen-year-old Woodfin passed away in December 2014, barely three years after his diagnosis with ALL T-Cell Leukemia. Lengthy stays at Egleston Children’s Hospital in Atlanta provided excellent treatment but could not deliver complete healing.
Woodfin’s legacy, though – of his servant’s heart and faith in Christ – has continued to grow and today serves as a testimony to others dealing with life’s unexpected turns.
His parents, Kyle and Alanna, told The Index leading up to that first birthday anniversary in April 2015 about the teenager’s struggles and dwindling days.
Two of his last requests, they said, was to spend time with friends and play bass guitar during worship at Alamo Baptist Church, which his father serves as pastor, one last time. His selection for that occasion: “How Great is Our God,” “10,000 Reasons,” “Who Am I,” and concluded with “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus.”
That’s why friends thought it was completely appropriate when his parents decided to plan a party and give away some of his most cherished belongings – Legos that cheered him up and provided a healthy distraction.
As they planned the event the couple decided they would deconstruct his creations, bag the Lego blocks, and give them to young friends at church and in the community. New sets that had never been opened would be donated to the hospital for children undergoing treatment.
And that was the genesis of a new ministry.
Alanna remembers thinking, “Why not collect new Legos at this first birthday observance and give them to children at Egleston and other hospitals in the Children’s Hospital of Atlanta network?”
Word began to spread and by the time April 30 arrived, Kyle and Alanna had received 165 sets from friends, family, and others in the community.
“Joshua developed an appreciation for Legos during his hospital visits and this was the perfect way to honor him and his spirit. There was not a flat surface in his hospital room that did not have a Lego creation on it,” she adds.
The following year the couple decided “to try again and see what happens,” Kyle says. Before they knew it, the Lego drive had spread to 8 collection sites scattered across four states – New Orleans, Dallas, Birmingham as well as Savannah, Douglas, and a Woman’s Missionary Union group in Atlanta.
The out-of-state sites were the result of friends and family who wanted to participate on behalf of children’s hospitals in their communities. For example, daughter Kayla Barnes and husband Cory, who was studying at New Orleans Seminary, headed up that effort.
By the time of Joshua’s April 30 birthday observance, 648 kits had been collected for local distribution.
A long, drawn out “Wooooow” was all Alanna could think when she saw the totals.
“It was so amazing to see how it had grown so fast. We were just casting nets and God was filling them with Legos rather than fish,” she adds.
Kyle said that response confirmed the couple that the collection was meeting a need and was something they needed to pursue.
The next year, 2017, was even more amazing with 712 kits rolling in. The number of collection sites remained the same but they added a girls’ softball tournament in Milledgeville, with teams coming from across the state, bearing Legos.
This year the collection broke the thousand barrier, with about 1,050 being donated to children’s hospitals, bringing smiles to faces that otherwise might not have too much to smile about. And Alanna says she has still not heard from two sites … and the Milledgeville event, the Middle Georgia Softball USSSA Tournament, will not be played until this weekend.
And oh yes, they added Fort Lauderdale, FL as the newest site.
Before the event grow much larger the couple plan to officially launch the annual remembrance as Joshua’s Lego Challenge, a non-profit organization. The impromptu title being used by the softball tournament, Joshua’s Lego Battle, is a violation of copyright laws so is not an option.
This year the couple raised about $15,000 worth of Legos and last Friday, May 11, found the Woodfins on a two-hour drive to the Lego store at Sugarloaf Mills in Duluth. They were joined by their son and daughter’s families, including two grandchildren.
An hour later they had spent $1,000 on 100 sets and related items ranging in price from $10 and above. Most of the donated popular sets are in the $15 to $25 range.
When asked why he thought the event has grown so far, so fast, Kyle didn’t take long to respond.
“Kids really get into this … it’s all about children giving to children. There is a strong desire to help a sick child, it really tugs at the heartstrings,” he explained.
That observation is borne out by the growing schools that are becoming involved. Last year two schools participated, this year it had grown to 6 – three Christian schools, two public schools, and a statewide online academy network.
The Woodfins are now ready to take the ministry to the next level. They are exploring with Egleston to host a block party for children who are encouraged to venture out of their rooms.
“Those who are mobile can attend and those who are too ill can have a kit delivered to their room,” Alanna explains. She is hoping they will be able to minister to 25 to 50 children in the one-day event, either outside or in a conference room.
“It’s amazing to see how those children can navigate, play games and such while holding on to their IV poles. They just want to be kids and have fun,” she says.
And it’s just the way Joshua would have liked it.
For more information on the ministry contact Kyle or Alanna at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (912) 423-0713.