Inside USD

Danielle Cantwell: Hearts of Hope

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The University of San Diego is a designated Ashoka U Changemaker Campus. As a steward of this initiative, the USD Changemaker Hub awarded nine current USD students with up to $2,000 each in the Summer Changemaker Fellowship program, which was partially funded by School of Business Administration Board of Advisors member Chris Crane. Each student has worked on a project they’re passionate about that makes positive change. This is the third in a series of Inside USD articles about the 2013 Summer Changemaker Fellows.

In 2009, Danielle Cantwell’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatment over a period of two years. Though it was a harrowing experience, Cantwell vividly remembers seeing how touched her mother was one day after receiving a ceramic heart from a young boy.

“For my mom, receiving something as something as simple yet touching as this ceramic heart, gave her a sense of hope and made her feel as though she was  not alone in her fight,” Cantwell says.

That moment prompted her to join Hearts of Hope, a nationwide volunteer organization that assists people transitioning through difficult circumstances.

“I desire to make a change in the world, and with each heart that’s painted and received, it changes the lives of others a little bit, one person, one heart at a time.”

Hearts of Hope creates ceramic hearts that are hand-painted by various age groups, ranging from young children to adults. Each ceramic heart is glazed, tied with a ribbon, and packaged with a personalized greeting card, including a heartfelt message of hope and bit of information about the painter. The recipients, in turn, send thank you notes through a Hearts of Hope email address, bringing the connection from one heart, miles away, to another.

“When I saw firsthand how these hand-painted hearts could bring light to someone’s day that might otherwise not be so bright, I knew that I needed to get involved.”

Over 38,000 ceramic hearts have been hand-painted and distributed to date.

According to Cantwell, the organization arose as a response to the 9/11 attacks and has since branched out to cancer patients, caregivers, and military personnel. These keepsakes have most recently made their way to those afflicted in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and the Boston Marathon bombing.

“From this process, I’ve learned the importance of giving back as much of yourself as you can. I realize we all need to take the time for small gestures of hope, because they can and do make a positive difference in so many lives.”

Now, the senior behavioral neuroscience major and Spanish minor is taking the next steps to broaden the program’s reach into Southern California and San Diego specifically.

“I wanted to expand into Southern California because I love the organization so much and did not know of any similar organizations present here.”

Cantwell started the initiative last May when she set up a booth at the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life in her hometown of Wayne, N.J. She collected close to 100 painted hearts, shipping them with another box of unpainted ones to San Diego.

One of the first people Cantwell contacted was Judith Bradrick, director of Patient Resources at the UCSD Thornton Hospital and Moore Cancer Center, who was thrilled with the concept and suggested integrating it into the bone marrow stem cell transplant unit. Both contend the hearts would be a perfect celebratory gift for patients finishing extended stays in the ward.

“Spreading the word initially takes a lot of research, leg work and phone calls. But once people are touched by Hearts of Hope and the beautiful message it creates, the program begins to flourish by word of mouth and organization to organization.”

Cantwell is currently planning on engaging other organizations and youth groups to become involved and employ further support at UCSD. Within USD, she intends to incorporate it as part of the university’s Greek Life Panhellenic Recruitment in January as well as in the philanthropy of her sorority, Gamma Phi Beta, this fall.

“I feel very confident that once I make my initial impact in San Diego that it will only continue to grow and the message of hope can spread to all the hospitals and cancer centers in the area.”

— Michael Lu ‘12

Read about other USD Summer Changemaker Fellows: Ailsa Tirado, Brian Wisdom/Aaron McCarthy, Gabby Sghia-Hughes, Kyle Miller, Leo Brown-Young, Ellie Phillips and Katinka Bosch.

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