Josephine and I had a vision, there was no place easily accessible for her to go outside while in patient. I saw a rooftop on the fifth floor of the children's hospital, and with funding and donations and my background as an artist/designer we created Josephine's Garden.
It is a space full of symbolism:
Water - the frog fountain (Josephine loved frogs) and a circle of blue energy.
Fire - a circle of orange and red with a hand carved 12 foot "warrior" pole with wings and a crown also symbolizing battle, war, passion and power.
The children sign their name and I carve it in to the peeling scarred wood. There is a circle of earth with a large climbing boulder for the children to sit on and be grounded and connected, with Josephine's art work displayed on the railing. Thick slabs of Italian slate floating on the walls for the children to draw on with chalk. The space is about hope, a respite, a place to refuel.... we celebrated the opening of Josephine's Garden on July 9, 2012 - Josephine's first birthday in heaven.
What does Josephine's Garden fund currently?
All funds currently are used for research at the Josephine Elle Hartung-Rispoli Research Lab at the Children's Cancer Institute at the Joseph M. Sanzari Children's Hospital in Hackensack. It is the first of its kind in New Jersey and because of this lab, clinical trials are now available for the children.
How has the Josephine Signature Stripe impacted the local community?
The Josephine Stripe is AMAZING! It has provided an incredible springboard to ignite the conversation about Josephine's story and pediatric cancer. People stop me and others on the street asking about the "amazing leggings" and I am compelled to speak about Josephine, K-DEER, and pediatric cancer! I teach at several gyms in the community and hundreds of students have purchased the Josephine stripe creating an amazing vibration of love support and awareness. We wore them in mass during pediatric cancer month in class creating a sea of joyful vibrant Josephine stripes creating a buzz! I use these stripes constantly to promote the work we are doing to help our children. I am so grateful to Kristine (founder of K-DEER) it's so incredible and I am so thankful.
What are the ways that you continue to grow your effort in pediatric cancer advocacy?
I continue to grow our efforts to advocate for pediatric cancer with numerous fundraisers. I organize a "Day of Gold" in schools in September. I design a special collectible pin and children in schools bring a donation to receive one, this year is our 5th year! I speak at conferences, and I have gone to Washington DC to meet with our delegates to work on passing the STAR ACT
How can others get involved with this cause?
Others can get involved in their community by donating to local organizations that fund pediatric cancer, such as Josephine's Garden & St. Baldrick's. They can also help by reaching out to families that are fighting pediatric cancer. It may be your worst nightmare, but it can happen to anyone (Pediatric cancer shows no bias). I thought I was doing everything right - breast fed my girls, organic food, no pesticides on our grass - but cancer came in the back door like a thief in the night taking my dear Josephine from me and her sisters. It shows no mercy and our kids deserve more!
Do you have any advice for others whose lives may be impacted by pediatric cancer?
Have faith, love your children, live and love big, accept help, be kind to yourself, fight like hell and never give up!
Learn more about Josephine's Garden here.
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*All photos courtesy of Heidi Hartung Rispoli