Caren Hoffman's mission to help sick children began at age 13, when her younger brother, Sam, then 8, needed a bone marrow transplant. Sam had Fanconi anemia, a genetic disease that can lead to bone marrow failure at an early age, then leukemia, and then a variety of cancers.
The family traveled to New York City and decided they would live at the Ronald McDonald House during Sam's hospitalization. At first, "I hated it and the hospital," Hoffman says. "I missed my friends and my school and my house." But when she started doing art with the children there, she discovered a passion. "Painting with these sick little kids made me feel good," she says, "because I could tell that painting made them happy."
Because of his transplant, Sam didn't develop leukemia. But Caren went on to become a Leader in Training at Paul Newman's "Hole in the Wall Gang" camp -- also for chronically ill children -- which further strengthened Hoffman's love of helping children. So when she turned 15, she started "Bromfield Against Cancer," a student club at her small public high school in rural Massachusetts to raise money for other families with sick children. "Our town raised a lot of money for us when we went to New York with Sam," she recalls. "I wanted to do the same for others."
In 2009, Bromfield Against Cancer took part in a local Relay for Life event, sponsored by the American Cancer Society, that raised a total of $87,000. In addition, with one town-wide spaghetti dinner, BAC raised another $10,000 for their principal, whose daughter also has cancer.
Now a senior in high school, Hoffman, 17, says her "dream job" is to "become a family counselor who works with kids who have cancer and their families." Looking back to the time when Sam, now 12 and cancer free, was sick, giving back by helping other kids, "is the best decision I've ever made."