Community celebrates Callie Cavanaugh at dedication

A sea of blue “Callie Strong” shirts mirrored the sky at the dedication of a memorial garden on Saturday.

The garden, named Callie’s Garden, honors 7-year-old Callie Cavanaugh, a Loyalsock student who passed away from cancer last year.

Young and old alike wandered through the garden, which is located at James Short Park in the township. The afternoon breezes took the edge off the intensity of the sun creating a perfect day to visit the various vendors and enjoy the activities planned for the event.

During the dedication, Callie’s mother, Michelle Cavanaugh, said the garden is a gift to the community that has supported them through the loss of their daughter.

“Callie would love this idea and would love the garden,” she said.

“As the entrance sign says, we hope it is a place to not only remind us of Callie’s inner beauty, strength and kindness, but also to serve as a sanctuary where you can come to sit quietly, reflecting, praying, reading or to come and talk, laugh and celebrate with friends and family,” she said.

Located on a third of an acre between the soccer and football fields at the park, the garden features benches, bird and butterfly houses and flowers. There are also trees and rocks to sit on and eventually a Little Library will be located in the garden where people can take a book and leave a book for someone else. Donations totaling over $17,000 were used to construct the garden.

Also speaking at the ceremony was Jennifer Cooley, a guidance counselor at Schick Elementary School where Callie attended from Kindergarten through third grade.

“I always remember and still picture Callie coming to school bright-eyed, skipping down the hallways, joyfully playing with her friends at recess, comforting others when they were upset and creating beautiful artwork,” she shared with the crowd of over 200 people who attended the event.

Speaking after the ceremony, Cooley noted that Callie’s compassionate nature, which was reflected in her desire to help others even before she was diagnosed with cancer, was exceptional in a child so young.

“I’ve been a school counselor for over 20 years and it’s very rare that you see that in a young elementary age child … But Callie, way back in kindergarten, was always one to look out for others before herself. One to comfort others before herself. She exhibited that at a very young age. Amazingly, and I still stand in awe, that while she was enduring all those surgeries and chemo and radiation treatments, she continued to think of other children who were battling cancer when she herself was battling cancer,” she said.

Callie’s grandparents, Carol and Skip Cavanaugh, of Wellsboro, echoed Cooley’s words.

“When she (Callie) was in the hospital, before she even had cancer, she asked her mom one day, just out of the blue, ‘Do kids with cancer celebrate Christmas,'” Callie’s grandfather said.

He shared how when she was diagnosed with cancer just after her seventh birthday and was at Geisinger Janet Weis hospital, she was told people were praying for her and she wanted to know, “what about all the rest of these kids?”

“That’s what Callie Cares is all about. They’re fundraising, they give clothing, they sponsor a room at the Philadelphia Children’s Hospital Ronald McDonald House and all of that in Callie’s name. I’d rather have my granddaughter, but she’s doing wonderful things,” he added.

Callie Cares is a non-profit foundation which provides “Callie Comfort bags,” outfits, food and gas cards to kids and families at Geisinger Janet Weis Pediatric Oncology as well as supporting Make-a-Wish and a room at the Philadelphia site.

Also speaking at the event was Eric McNulty, who was involved with fundraising for the garden. Callie’s “Nana” Catherine Kreger, a lay minister, offered the opening prayer.

At the end of the ceremony, amid delighted squeals, children at the event released 108 butterflies at the garden.

“Callie loved butterflies and fairies, but since we could not release fairies, those things are hard to catch we found out, we settled for butterflies,” said Callie’s mom. “We pray that we will have years of these creatures to watch and remind us of her laughter and how very delicate life is and to live each day to its fullest.”