Mother’s ingenuity means more freedom for her daughter and other local kids

From ingenuity to life-changing: Volunteers modify backpacks for kids who need IV nutrition

Kelly Engel rigged up a child's backpack to serve as a mobile feeding station for her 21-month-old daughter, Aleah, who would otherwise be tethered to an IV pole for hours at a time. Friends and neighbors spent an evening modifying more kid-size b
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Kelly Engel rigged up a child's backpack to serve as a mobile feeding station for her 21-month-old daughter, Aleah, who would otherwise be tethered to an IV pole for hours at a time. Friends and neighbors spent an evening modifying more kid-size b

Aleah Engel will mark her second birthday in a couple months. Ever since she was born, she has dealt with an as-yet undiagnosed feeding issue that makes her unable to bear the feeling of food in her stomach. She has relied on feeding tubes to get the nutrition she needs. During one of Aleah’s hospital stays, her mom, Kelly Engel, met another local mother who had modified a backpack into a portable, wearable feeding station for her child.

Kelly Engel got inspired to modify a backpack to fit Aleah. When she saw how well it worked, allowing Aleah to move around and play while feeding instead of being attached to a stationary IV pole, she decided to help other families.

Engel has been collecting donated backpacks and working with a group of volunteers to modify the backpacks into mobile feeding stations. Engel has streamlined the process to make the modifications quick and easy. Modifying a pack only takes about 10 minutes. Besides the cost of the backpack, which is around $18, the cost of the modifications is just 80 cents. She and her crew are donating the packs to St. Luke’s to be distributed to families. In the past month, they’ve given away 60 packs.

Engel said she’s received letters from parents who are grateful for the donations of the packs. The letters include one from a mother who had been saving for a year in hopes of buying a pricey, commercially made mobile pack. Thanks to Engel, she got a pack for free. Her son no longer has to miss class during his IV feedings. He’s able to stay at school and play with his friends.

Aleah, in the meantime, uses her backpack during most of her meals and is continuing to thrive. She has gained 3 inches and 4 pounds since May 3.

“Honestly, it’s life-changing,” said Engel. “Her feeding takes an hour, so without it she would be tethered to the pole for an hour, five times a day.”

Leading this project has helped Engel, too. In dealing with Aleah’s hospitalizations, the Engels went through a dark time, Kelly said. The project was initially a diversion, something to take her mind off Aleah’s challenges. But it’s grown beyond that. Engel said she’s been able to see how a simple, good, inexpensive idea has helped her own family and others.

“Something so small can change a child’s whole day,” she said.

The community can help. Engel welcomes donations of backpacks. The pre-modification animal-shaped backpacks are available through Amazon. They cost $18. Indie Made, the store in Downtown Boise at 108 N. 6th St. that sells local crafts, has a collection bin where donors can drop off backpacks.

If you’d like to join the group of volunteers who convert the backpacks, email Kelly Engel at thealeahproject@gmail.com. Learn more on The Aleah Project’s Facebook page.

‘Keep Alive the Spirit of ‘45’ event will mark the end of World War II

Phil Hawkins, a Vietnam veteran and volunteer coordinator at the Idaho State Veterans Home, wants Treasure Valley residents to come together for this special event, 10 a.m. on Sunday, Aug. 14, at the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery, 10100 Horseshoe Bend Road in Boise.

The 45-minute ceremony, part of a national initiative, will remember the end of World War II and pay tribute to local veterans. Hawkins, who will emcee the event, said fewer than 20 World War II-era veterans now live at the state home. Several are in their 90s. Along with Hawkins, two World War II veterans will speak. There will also be an opportunity for veteran attendees to share their stories.

“We have to remember the greatest generation that’s done so much for all of us,” said Hawkins. “This will be a great opportunity for us to recognize these guys.” In addition to his own service in Vietnam, Hawkins’ family is steeped in military service. His father, along with his uncles, served in World War II.

On a related note, Hawkins is looking for residents, both women and men, who served “on the civilian front” during the war, whether as a “Rosie the Riveter,” or in a shipyard, or repairing parachutes, or working in munition factories or another job. Contact Hawkins at 208-780-1700.

James Earp, director of the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery said the event, the sharing of stories, is meant to honor the sacrifices of veterans and those on the home front, but emphasizes the ceremony will not be one of mourning. “It’s a celebration,” said Earp, “a chance for veterans to speak.”

The cemetery staff is also inviting families to take pictures of World War II veterans and their families and submit them to be part of a future national display in Washington D.C. Several Idaho families have already submitted photos, said Earp. The cemetery office will scan the photos and send them on to Washington where they will be reprinted to form collages representing each state. If you would like to take part in the photo project, call the cemetery office for details at 208-780-1340.

Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline seeks volunteers

The Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline (1-800-273-TALK) is looking for volunteers to answer phones for all shifts, especially evenings and weekends. As word has gotten out about the hotline, the number of calls has increased, say staffers. Volunteers receive training and supervision and also get the chance to work alongside fellow volunteers devoted to the public good. Idaho, like other states in the Intermountain West have the highest suicide rates in the country. The next training class begins Sept. 24 and runs until mid-October. Tours and shadowing for prospective volunteers will take place in August and September.

After their required training, volunteers commit to one shift per week for one year. To learn more call Nina Leary at 208-401-8327, or email her at nleary@jannus.org or visit idahosuicideprevention.org to apply.

Boise Young Professionals breaks its own volunteer service record

The Boise Young Professionals organization celebrated its 10-year anniversary in a cool way by having its members give 1,401 hours of volunteer service in the Treasure Valley in July. These hours, given in a single month, are more than the organization usually gives in a single year. Members worked in schools, churches and other community organizations, as well as serving on boards. Notable numbers: 50 people logged volunteer hours with 35 different nonprofit groups. Nine people each volunteered more than 40 hours in July.

One standout was Shelley Bennett, community relations manager at the Idaho Wine Commission. Bennett gave 92.5 hours of her time to multiple organizations, the most for the month. Shelley is a member of the Boise Young Professionals leadership team and is the current chair of the events team. She also serves on the Boise Watershed Exhibit board and the Leadership Boise Alumni Association committee.

United Way hosts annual Flapjack Feed

The annual fundraiser will take place from 7:30 to 10 a.m., Aug. 18, on the Basque Block. Cost is a $5 suggested donation, and you can bypass the line with a Quick Pass. Call 208-336-1070 for details. In addition to enjoying a tasty breakfast, you can know that your donation supports United Way’s Community Fund.

During the event, United Way staff and volunteers will fill in diners on the latest United Way programs and initiatives and be available to answer questions about the organization’s partnerships and its work to help approximately 230,000 people in the Treasure Valley each year.

Volunteers will sell raffle tickets throughout the morning, with a chance to win a variety of items, including two round trip tickets on Alaska Airlines and ski passes to Bogus Basin. Raffle tickets are only available to purchase on the event day.