It’s been quite a while — last school year, to be sure — since young Amber Fernandez has seen her friends at Hull Elementary School.
But that doesn’t mean this 7-year-old from Chandler has been forgotten — not in the slightest — by the hundreds of classmates she left an impact on before her long bout with acute myeloid leukemia began in July.
Hull’ kindergarten, first- and second-grade students proved that yet again Tuesday morning, as the school hosted a special assembly to present Amber’s father, Ben Fernandez, with a quilt made up of more than 160 squares featuring the artwork of the south Chandler campus’ student body.
“There’s something to be said with strength in numbers,” said Ben Fernandez, in attendance on behalf of his wife, Kelly, and their family. “We could not do this alone.”
And alone they haven’t been.
Inspired by the fundraising efforts by Amber’s friend and Hull classmate Kiana Banks, in upward of $3,000 has been raised so far to help the Fernandez family tackle the litany of medical costs involved with battling Amber’s affliction — a fight that, so far, has included four rounds of chemotherapy with a likely bone marrow transplant early next year.
Tuesday’s event did include more financial donations to the Fernandez family, but the real centerpiece was the presentation of the quilt — a tangible, daily reminder to young Amber that while she may not be running around the Hull campus with her friends, they can’t wait until the day she might return.
Ben Fernandez explained that Amber understands what everyone is doing to help her and her family. Even still, tangible items like the quilt — along with a video featuring her classmates — offer a direct way for her to see how much they care, he said.
“In the green envelope we gave to her dad, it had all these letters in it that we wrote to her,” said Allison Weyandt, a second-grader who said she’s known Amber for more than three years.
Keisha Banks, Kiana’s mother, said the idea for the quilt came as a product of the school’s art program. In the end, the unit on quilting was to produce a paper quilt — with students designing the squares — but the Bankses thought, “why not make a real quilt and give it to Amber?”
So that’s what they did, although not without the help of a Casa Grande-based quilting business. While the Hull students provided the artwork and design for Amber’s quilt, the team at Eagle Wings Quilting, owned by Tim and Dena Dority, volunteered the stitching, binding and handiwork at no charge.
Visibly choked up, Ben Fernandez had to pause during Tuesday’s assembly when thanking the Hull contingent for their support through the most trying of times. While Amber’s hospital stays may not be over, and treatment will continue well into next year, Fernandez said he couldn’t wait to take all of the items brought forth — one member of the Hull community even greeted Fernandez at the door as he was leaving the school with bags full of wrapped Christmas presents for Amber and the entire family — to Amber.
Just as important, he imparted how much he couldn’t wait for his daughter to be back playing with her friends.
“I look forward to getting her back to riding bicycles in the park,” he said, “not in the hallway of a hospital.”
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