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Cup with Love project carries Girl Scouts' message of hope

Each Girl Scout selected her own paint colors and created her own unique design, as Kaelei Olson demonstrates.1 / 2
These handpainted cups await glazing and firing at Cat River Kilns before delivery to newly diagnosed cancer patients.2 / 2

Few can say their lives are wholly untouched by cancer. Too many of us know a grandfather, a mother, a child or perhaps a friend who has had to battle the dreaded disease.

Local Girl Scouts have begun extending a message of hope to cancer survivors undergoing treatment. They are collecting tea cups and enclosing a small assortment of presents - tea bags, hot cocoa, note cards, hand lotion, teddy bears, angel worry stones and candy among them. The cheerful bundles of encouragement will then be distributed by St. Joseph's Area Health Services to local cancer patients.

The community service project is in partnership with the Cup With Love Project, a non-profit organization based in Sacramento, California. Inspired by simple, but thoughtful acts of kindness bestowed upon her during her cancer treatment, Cup With Love founder Molly Ximenez decided to share that same compassion with other newly diagnosed cancer patients. Her vision led to the formal creation of the Cup With Love Project in 2005. Thanks both to the continued efforts of Ximenez and a band of dedicated volunteers, they have provided gifts to thousands of cancer patients in northern California.

The involvement of Park Rapids Girl Scouts is unique: it's the first pilot project in the nation.

Girl Scout leader Cat Schermeister, a potter by trade and owner of Cat River Kilns, read about the Cup With Love Project in one of her many pottery catalogs. She recruited fellow Girl Scout leader Shannon Geisen-Bolton.

"I immediately agreed this would be a perfect project for our Girl Scouts, and the community's response has been wonderful," said Geisen-Bolton.

Local businesses - Walmart, Ben Franklin and J&B Foods - generously donated items for the project, thus far. Responding to a classified ad, numerous community members have stepped forward and contributed beautiful tea cups, saucers and mugs.

"I've been astounded at the beauty of the donated tea cups and touched that some of the givers are cancer survivors themselves," said Geisen-Bolton.

Sixteen Girl Scouts recently gathered for a day camp dedicated to better understanding cancer and teaching compassion for others. Activities included the award-winning "Zink the Zebra" program, featuring a book written by an 11-year-old girl in the midst of her own battle with cancer. Kelly Weils tells the tale of a zebra with spots instead of stripes who learns that being different can be a positive experience. Weils wrote the story when her peers withdrew their friendship during her cancer treatment. She lost her battle with bone cancer in 1993.

"Just seeing them painting their cups as they carried on conversations about people they knew going through cancer treatments and how their cups were going to make someone very happy, well, that just brings tears of hope to your eyes that some day there will be a cure for all cancer," said Maria Kohrs, a Park Rapids Girl Scout leader who co-organized the day camp with Stephanie Lippert, a parent of a Girl Scout.

"I have a grandma that survived breast cancer and another grandma that passed away because of cancer when I was the same age as some of these girls," said Kohrs.

Today, over 300 Girl Scout Councils across the country and overseas are using Zink the Zebra activities to help girls embrace differences and build self-esteem.

The Girl Scouts also handpainted specially ordered mugs for the Cup With Love Project. Schermeister is glazing and firing the mugs, which will be paired with gifts at Girl Scout registration night on Sept. 16.

Included in the care package is a bookmark with a special message from Ximenez.

"The angels heard of your cancer journey and gathered in flight to reach you," she writes. "As you hold this cup know that it is filled with love, hope and courage, and if you close your eyes and be still, you may hear the rustling of angel's wings that surround you as they guard you in all your ways."

Geisen-Bolton expects the Cup With Love Project to be an ongoing effort for local Girl Scout troops. For more information or to make a donation, contact her at 732-3364 or visit If you know someone in the Park Rapids area who was recently diagnosed with cancer and would like to request a cup, contact Liz Shaw, communication/ development coordinator at St. Joseph's Area Health Services, at 237-5423 or visit the Cup With Love Project website.