Lauren Broderick thought she was helping others when she became involved with Illinithon, but she ended up helping herself as well.
Broderick came to the University of Illinois as an uncertain freshman, thinking she wanted to major in Music Education. Previously she had considered a career involving helping kids, and had planned to study Child Life.
Her interest came from interactions she had with sick kids in her own life. Her best friend during her childhood had cancer, and she has a cousin, who developed health issues at an early age.
“I just knew from a young age that I loved seeing my best friend feel comfortable and happy in the hospital, and I knew I wanted to do the same for other kids,” said Broderick.
She saw first-hand how Child Life impacted her friend and her cousin during their times in the hospital. She decided she wanted to brighten the lives of other kids going through this as much as she could. However, when she went to Illinois she ultimately decided to study music.
This all changed in 2016 after meeting an eight-year-old boy named, Levi, at Illinithon’s annual Miracle Family Tailgate fundraiser for The Children’s Miracle Network. Over the past weekend, Illinithon raised $348,824 at their big event.
Levi has mitochondrial disorder, a genetic condition resulting in poor growth, muscle weakness and developmental delays. Broderick and Levi immediately hit if off when they met. They played Spikeball together and discussed school and what they wanted to be when they grew up. Levi wanted Broderick to follow him and go wherever he went. After spending time together, it was clear a bond had formed.
Someone wanted to interview Levi at the tailgate, but he refused to sit still. Broderick offered to sit with him and help him through the interview.
She talked with the rest of his family and was able to connect with them because of her cousin who was also a miracle child. As such, she could relate to having a family member who was in and out of hospitals from an early age.
Levi’s mother, Kathie, quickly observed that the two got along together really well.
“She came down to his level, allowed for him to let his wall down,” Kathie said. “She showed him attention and showed him it was ok to be off the wall sometimes… she just went with the flow, which is what you have to do when it comes to Levi, he doesn’t fit into a box and she recognized that.”
Ever since that day, Broderick and Levi have been best friends. Levi said that he and Lauren “talk about life.”
Kathie elaborated on this, saying that includes what is currently happening in Levi’s life, as well as his interests in tumbling and gaming.
Levi described Lauren, saying, “She is nice. She is kind. She is helpful. She is careful. She also makes me laugh.”
Levi and Broderick get to see each other about three to four times a year. Levi’s family makes a big effort to attend most of the family events hosted by Illinithon so they can spend time together. They were able to play together at Illinithon’s dance marathon last weekend. Kathie said that Levi is always very excited to go and see Broderick.
Throughout the rest of the year, the two keep in contact via Facebook. Levi doesn’t have his own account, but relays messages through Kathie’s account. They communicate mainly through commenting on each other’s posts.
“He always is Facebook stalking her,” Kathie said. “He likes to keep up to date and will comment and respond with little words here or there or he will do a selfie and post it on her comment thread.”
Meeting Levi made Broderick realize the difference she could make helping children, and she has changed her major to Human Development and Family Studies. She plans to be a certified life specialist after graduation so she can work with more kids like Levi.
“Above all, Levi has taught me that we are all stronger than we believe,” she said. “Levi is truly one of the most resilient kids I’ve ever met; and he made me realize that if he can go through all that he does, and keep smiling through it all, then I can too.”