GRAND RAPIDS, Mich — A 14-year-old puzzle master from Hudsonville High School is using his passion for puzzles to make sure kids at the hospital have plenty of activities to take their minds off the bad things that come with the territory.

Spencer’s family recruited Hudsonville Public Schools to help him with the effort.

"We tried to keep it smaller at just the high school, but the community and the churches around started getting ahold of it and it just blew up," said Spencer's father Jason.

In just a week, they collected more than 1,000 donations for kids of all ages and ability levels, including puzzles and other items on the hospital’s wish list.

“The fact that Spencer got out of all that trauma and all that not-so-great stuff, to give back is an amazing feeling,” Jason said.

“When this whole puzzle drive started, a lot of people were like ‘What can we give Spence?’ and Spencer’s like ‘I don’t want anything. I just want to make sure that this stuff gets to the hospital.’”

A white box truck pulled up in the front circle drive on Wednesday, March 11 with the donations in tow. The delivery was a surprise not only for the kids, but also for Rhys VanDemark, who is a Child Life Specialist at the hospital. Rhys is Spencer’s hero.

“Rhys is just a great guy to look up to,” Spencer said.

After getting to know Spencer through his formative years, Rhys admires his patient quite a bit as well.

“One of the most rewarding things that can happen to a Child Life Specialist is to watch one of your patients give back to other kids in the hospital,” VanDemark said.

Puzzles, in particular, are crucial because in many cases they can’t be shared.

“One of the things about puzzles, because they’re made out of paper. You can’t really give a puzzle to someone who’s in isolation and then give it to somebody else. So if you get a puzzle, it’s yours to keep,” VanDemark said. 

“We go through them quickly, so we’re going to be in good stead for quite a long time with our puzzles now.”

There are other things that can’t be shared, like Play Doh. The hospital has a “wish list” on its website. Because of the coronavirus, you’ll need to make a personal appointment to drop off any donation you might make, and the exchange will happen outside the hospital.


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