Elon freshman uses graduation gifts to help sick children
Andi Cochran wanted to spend her final months before college investing in a worthwhile project, so when the incoming Elon University freshman used her high school graduation money to buy toys for patients at Duke Children’s Hospital, she knew her actions represented more than a gift – they were a “thank you” to an institution that touched her own life.
“My mom and my grandmother [both battled] cancer and I’ve been blessed with 18 years of health,” says Cochran, a graduate of Croatan High School in Newport, N.C. “I wanted to take what I’d been given and help others.”
Both relatives were treated at Duke Hospital. Though Cochran was only in second grade when doctors diagnosed her mother – also an Elon alum – with breast cancer, to this day she remembers the fear and uncertainty she experienced during a tumultuous time.
“I have a lot of respect for my mom. She’s strong and she’s a fighter,” says Cochran. “[The experience] taught me that when something is given to you in life, you’ve got to take it and do something with it.”
Cochran contacted Duke this spring with an offer to help the hospital. Susan Zeunges, operations coordinator at Duke Children’s Hospital, asked the high school grad to focus on young adults and teenagers because adolescent patients are often overlooked when donors make gifts.
“I think it’s really fantastic,” Zeunges says. “Andi shared with me that she wanted to do something to give back.”
Donations from community members and a contribution from her mother that matched the total amount of graduation money she received allowed Cochran to purchase hundreds of items, including journals, magazines, CDs, Play-Doh, the board games Clue and Sorry, puzzles and Legos.
Cochran planned to deliver the presents in person but was disappointed to discover that Duke Hospital tightened regulations on tours and visits as a precaution against the H1N1 virus, more commonly known as the swine flu. She delivered the toys just days before moving to campus to begin her fall semester studies.
A sacrifice like Cochran’s is huge but is not unheard of, Zeunges says. The hospital has witnessed an increasing interest among young people to take part in service projects and conduct volunteer work at Duke Children’s Hospital.
“I think the North Carolina schools are adding this service project for high school seniors,” says Zeunges. “Over the past six or eight months, I’ve seen an interest in giving and volunteering from high school groups.”
Cochran’s two uncles also attended Elon and, along with her mother, proved to be one of the driving forces behind her decision to apply to the university. She plans to major in business administration.
“Once I came, I fell in love with the atmosphere and the people,” says Cochran, who appreciates the small campus environment as well as the Martha and Spencer Love School of Business.
Growing up in a giving family helped lay the foundation for what Cochran is doing now. Her experience with her mother fostered her compassion and a desire to help others who are suffering.
Says Cochran: “It gives me a good feeling knowing that although these children [at Duke] have had to grow up so fast, it’s really good to know that even a gift I’ve given can make things brighter.”
- Written by Sarah Costello ‘11