Three weeks before Ashley Swip's brother passed away in 2010 from of skin cancer, the Collinsville resident was able to give her little brother one last wish. Guy Tyler Gifford was the guest of honor of at a Cards baseball game and got a chance meet the players in the dugout.
“He had one day where he didn't feel like the cancer had got him,” Swip said. “I told my mom: Why couldn't we do that for other people? Why couldn't we give them a day where nothing else matters and they don't feel like they're sick?”
That was the moment that Swip decided she would create a charity that grant “wishes” to young adults who are dealing with cancer. She named the nonprofit organization 3 Little Birds 4 Life after the Bob Marley reggae song, which was Gifford's unofficial theme song.
Swip, 32, said she wanted to target the 18-40-year-old population because they are usually not included in the “wish-making” charitable organizations and because they have additional stresses – such as jobs and families – that children and the elderly do not have.
“My brother had a good job and his own apartment and he had to move back in with my parents,” Swip said. “There's a lot of things that young adults have to deal with that kids and the elderly don't have to deal with.”
Swip started the charity one year ago and 3 Little Bird 4 Life has a 10-member board, 501(c)3 non profit status, a Facebook page and a website. So far, the group has taken on four wishes. They helped a brain cancer patient get ringside tickets to a WWE match where he got to meet the wrestlers, a Granite City man with testicular cancer get his car fixed so he could keep his job, and they plan to help his older brother, who has the same type of cancer, get corrective surgery for his teeth.
The charitable organization's most recent project was to build a deck for Collinsville resident Annie Kolesa. The 24-year-old suffers from a rare form of acute myeloid leukemia and has to undergo regular bouts of chemotherapy. Her wish was to have a deck built in her backyard.
“I'm stuck inside all the time. When I'm in the hospital, typically my stays are at least five to seven days where I'm stuck inside watching TV,” said Kolesa. “So when I go home I really like to be outside and I didn't have anyplace to do that.”
So one weekend last month, Swip mobilized about 40 volunteers and rounded up local businesses to donate lumber and services and the group spent a day and a half building a deck for Kolesa, her husband Jake and their dachshund, McGee. The volunteers also beautified the area by doing cleaning and landscaping and installing lawn furniture.
Now Kolesa can sip her coffee and McGee can lay out in the sun in their new deck.
“Fall is my favorite time of the year,” Kolesa said. “I like to bundle up in sweaters and sweat pants and put a firepit out there in the grass and enjoy the outdoor space. It couldn't have come at a better time. I probably wouldn't have much use for it when it was 100 degrees out there.”
Swip is a Granite City teacher and mother of two young children. She is married to Brett Swip, who owns the Collinsville Extreme softball club. She said founding a charitable organization has been a lot easier than she thought because of the generosity of community members, businesses and organizations. All of the projects that 3 Little Birds 4 Life have done has been with fundraising dollars or in-kind donations. The organization is having a fundraiser in March in order to continue granting wishes.
“Brett and I live a really crazy life,” Swip said. “I keep thinking we have two little boys, he runs that crazy company and I teach. But it's been so rewarding. Every time I need something to happen, something magically happens and it appears for me.”