Local Youth & young adult

Notes of encouragement brighten hospital halls

Leo Rucker holds a sign that stood in his family’s front yard as an invitation for neighbors and passersby to drop off notes and pictures for the medical staff at AdventHealth Shawnee Mission.

by Moira Cullings

OVERLAND PARK — Notes of encouragement adorn three large bulletin boards at AdventHealth Shawnee Mission in Merriam, offering hope to the medical staff amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

They originated with an unassuming source — a soon-to-be third grader.

Leo Rucker attends Holy Spirit  School in Overland Park. His mom Katie is a sepsis coordinator at AdventHealth, and her office is currently located in the COVID-19 intensive care unit.

Although Leo might not grasp the larger picture of how his mom’s work fits into the pandemic, Katie said he gets “the little things, like making somebody’s day.

“He’s such a quiet kid,” she said, “but he’s so thoughtful.”

It was no surprise, then, that when Katie and Leo noticed sidewalk chalk with uplifting messages throughout their neighborhood, Leo wanted to get involved in spreading positivity, too.

So, the family started writing sidewalk chalk messages of their own. They soon moved on to putting a box on their front porch and a sign in their front yard encouraging neighbors and passersby to drop off notes for health care workers.

Katie Rucker stands next to a bulletin board at the hospital filled with uplifting notes created by members of the community.

Their neighbors and fellow Holy Spirit parishioners were quick to get involved, making it possible to fill not only one but three of AdventHealth’s bulletin boards with heartfelt words and pictures.

Leo was eager to bring joy to the lives of health care workers and help them “feel better about working in the hospital, because they might be scared or nervous to work with patients that have the virus,” he said.

“I wanted to cheer them up and give them hope,” he added.

Leo looked forward each day to seeing the notes people dropped off, and the experience taught him the significance of serving others during a challenging time.

“It is important to bring kindness to our community because not everyone receives kindness, and we get to show people that simple things can spread love,” he said.

The Ruckers collected several letters and pictures from their community.

Leo’s compassion is a testament to his faith and upbringing. He received his first Communion earlier this month and takes to heart his family’s focus on gratitude and giving back.

And although an act of service like the bulletin board project was simple, Katie believes it has made a difference in the lives of her coworkers.

“I think it makes them feel more connected to the community,” she said. “For a long period of time, we couldn’t even have visitors. It was very isolating.

“It’s the hug you want to give somebody, but you can’t. It’s the touch on the shoulder or a smile from somebody else that you can’t see through a mask.”

The notes offer “a sense of connection to the community we serve,” she said.

Leo received his first Communion earlier this month and takes to heart the kindness and love his faith calls him to show others.

Working in a hospital during the pandemic has been difficult, but Katie also describes it as a “life-changing” experience that has opened her eyes to the love people have for one another.

“It shows you the best parts of humanity when you see the nurses bring a patient closer to the window because their family members are in the parking lot holding up a sign,” she said.

“We’d have garage sale signs that say, ‘Heroes work here,’ ‘Thank you’ and ‘God bless you.’ It just shows the great parts of humanity coming together,” she added.

Katie is proud of her son and hopes his efforts send a message to others wanting to help their communities.

“Anybody can make a difference,” she said.

About the author

Moira Cullings

Moira attended St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Overland Park and Benedictine College in Atchison. She majored in marketing, minored in psychology and played center midfield for the women’s soccer team. Moira joined The Leaven staff as a feature writer and social media editor in 2015. After a move to Denver, Moira resumed her full-time position at The Leaven and continues to write and manage its website, social media channels. Her favorite assignment was traveling to the Holy Land to take photos for a group pilgrimage in 2019.

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