Local Second-Grader Supports Levine Children’s NICU through Art

Hazel Birch with the unicorn mask she designed to benefit Levine Children's Hospital NICU
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MINT HILL, NC – Three years ago, Vanessa Birch, mom to then-five-year-old Hazel, was confronted with a problem familiar to all parents of preschoolers: too much artwork! 

“Hazel has always loved art, and she was mass-producing it, both at home and in preschool,” says Birch.  Faced with a growing pile of artwork that Birch herself was reluctant to throw away, Hazel suggested they sell her art, and the idea for Hazel’s annual art show was born.

“I told her we could,” says Birch, “but she had to pick someplace to donate the money.  My husband and I think it is hugely important to teach the kids the importance of giving back, especially to causes that have had a direct impact on their lives.”

Hazel chose to donate the proceeds from her show to the NICU at Levine Children’s Hospital.  Born at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, DC, Hazel weighed only 4 lbs and 13 oz and measured 16 inches at birth.  “I was in the NICU,” says Hazel, who now, at the age of seven, is 4’4” tall and wears a size 5 shoe.  “I hope my art helps sick babies get better faster.”

Hazel’s first annual art show took place in the Birch’s dining room.  Thanks to generous neighbors who visited the show, Hazel donated around $300 to Levine’s NICU.  The next year, one of Birch’s neighbors suggested Hazel move her show to her new salon.  With increased attendance and a generous donation from the salon, whose stylists did “braids for a buck” to benefit Levine, Hazel donated over $1000 in the show’s second year.

Five months into the COVID-19 pandemic, the time for Hazel’s annual art show rolled around.  “One thing you have to know about Hazel is she’s incredibly persistent, and she has an amazing memory,” says Birch.  “She knew it was around the time for her art show.  We had to tell her that we decided because of Coronavirus, it wouldn’t happen this year.  She was OK with it, but then a day or two later, she brought this unicorn drawing to me and asked if we could do something with it in place of her show.”

Hazel's unicorn drawing
Hazel’s unicorn drawing

Hazel and her mom brainstormed a lot of ideas: selling copies of the picture, putting it on a Christmas ornament, or donating it to the hospital for display all made the list.  But when Hazel asked if they could make the drawing into a mask and sell those, her mom knew she had hit upon something brilliant.  Although Hazel would have liked for the unicorn itself to be the mask, what they settled on is a copy of Hazel’s picture screened onto a white mask with “Hazel 2020” under it.

“I picked a unicorn because unicorns are my second favorite animal,” says Hazel.  Her first favorite animal?  A zebra, a term used to refer to people with rare diseases, people like Hazel herself, who suffers from Perthes Disease.  “She’s seven,” adds her mom.  “Anything with rainbows and lots of colors makes her happy!”

Birch shared Hazel’s design on Facebook and put the word out to friends, promising masks in return for any size donation to Levine’s NICU.  Birch and her husband paid for the masks out of pocket and assumed they would handle donations the same way they had for Hazel’s art shows, collecting small cash donations or electronic payments from family and friends and writing one big check to the Atrium Foundation at the end of the project.

But Hazel and her mom were quickly surprised by people’s incredible generosity.  “I thought people would donate maybe $10-$20 per mask,” says Birch.  “But when a single donation for $500 came in, I got in touch with my contact at the Foundation so people can get a proper tax credit for their donations, especially the larger ones.”

Unsure at first how much interest there would be, Birch and her husband ordered only 50 adult size small masks from S&B Computer and Office Products, the same company that supplies masks for Hazel’s school.  All fifty masks sold within only a few hours of Birch’s first Facebook post.  Hazel’s masks were so popular that Birch wound up placing two more orders for 150 masks total.

100% of the funds donated for Hazel’s masks – whether given directly to the foundation or to Hazel’s mom – will go to the Atrium Health Foundation.  The Foundation allows you to dictate where you want donated funds to go, so all funds noted for “Hazel Birch” will go to the NICU.

Hazel has even been recognized by the Atrium Health Foundation for her yearly efforts to support the NICU.  “Every year, the Atrium Health Foundation chooses kids who fundraise or help raise awareness for the hospital,” says Birch.  “Hazel has been honored as one of these ‘Young Ambassadors’ for the past two years.”

Hazel's masks are big enough to be worn by adults but small enough to be worn by children if the elastic is knotted
Hazel’s masks are big enough to be worn by adults but small enough to be worn by children if the elastic is knotted.

Hazel’s masks arrived last week, and Birch is diligently working on distributing them and shipping them to those who live out of state.  With some donations going through Hazel’s mom and others going directly to the Atrium Foundation, it’s impossible to give an exact figure on how much Hazel has raised for the NICU, but Birch guesses it will be over $2000.

Of the 150 masks Birch ordered, only a handful remain to be claimed.  If you’d like to purchase one of Hazel’s masks, email Vanessa Birch at thebirchfamily2015@gmail.com.  The masks are an adult size small, big enough to fit an adult but small enough to fit a child if you tie the ear loops.  Donations can be made through by check to the Atrium Health Foundation (208 East Boulevard, Charlotte, NC, 28203) or online at the Foundation’s website (http://atriumhealthfoundation.org).  Make sure to note your donation is in honor of Hazel Birch to direct the money to the NICU.

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