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A special birthday gift: Oakwood student forgoes presents to help sick children

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013 12:20 p.m. CST
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(Photo provided)
Oakwood Elementary student Layla Topete helped donate more than $800 in items to Almost Home Kids in lieu of receiving her own birthday presents.

When 7-year-old Oakwood Elementary School student Layla Topete told her parents she wanted to help sick children at the expense of her birthday presents, they weren’t surprised.

“Over summer she saw something on TV about someone who had helped an orphanage in lieu of getting birthday gifts,” her mother said. “She said to me and my husband ‘I don’t want or need any presents, I want to do something to help sick kids.’”

Layla’s parents, Amie and Rey, were proud of their daughter, but not caught off gaurd by the act of kindness. Amie said it’s just Layla’s personality.

“She came up with it on her own and pushed me to follow through with it,” Amie said.

As Layla’s birthday on Oct. 24 approached, she asked her mom to find a local group to which she could donate.

“I wanted to find somewhere that wasn’t just looking for monetary donations,” Amie said. “I searched a bunch and found Almost Home Kids.”

Almost Home Kids (AHK), located in Naperville, provides transitional care for children in serious medical situations or requiring lifelong attention. The group provides children with a home-like atmosphere for up to 90 days while their families learn proper care techniques, according to Amie.

Once she found AHK, Amie sent out birthday invitations with a letter explaining Layla’s donation idea and the organization’s wish list, which consists of paper towels, sanitizer, diapers, children’s books, DVDs, Wii games and more.

“The response was overwhelming,” Amie said. “It was just awesome … We had my car absolutely packed.”

The donations – more than $800 worth – were delivered in early November.

Layla hopes to inspire other kids her age.

“I was just spreading the word so everyone could know,” Layla said. “My favorite part was delivering everything and meeting all the children. It made me feel really happy and excited.”

Lemont resident Linda Kennedy, who taught Layla in preschool, said she has always been a giving and caring child, even at ages 3 and 4.

“If she saw someone looking sad, she’d come right over to that person and say, ‘Do you want to play with me?’” she said.

Kennedy also remembered when Layla donated her long hair to Locks of Love.

Finding Almost Home Kids was a perfect fit for Layla’s “philanthropist in the making.”

“It’s just a ‘Layla’ thing to do,” Amie said. “There are some things you can’t teach your kids and she was born with that little something extra.”

Reporter Dan Farnham contributed to this story.

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