Brownie Troop #644 of Demarest, NJ had a life altering experience during the spring of 1997 when one of its members, 8-year-old Lauren Costanzo, was diagnosed with brain cancer. Instead of pushing her away and making fun of her changing appearance and increasing physical limitations, this group of thirteen 8-year-old girls had the courage and compassion to rise to the occasion by providing support for Lauren and her parents in any way they could.
Brownie Troop #644 kept Lauren involved in all Brownie activities with a special degree of concern and care. When she was able to go to school, they watched over her and treated her as they always had, as a friend. They made frequent hospital and home visits to Lauren, including accompanying her to treatments. They made their visits into parties by reading to her, joking around, and doing her hair and nails. They made gifts and cards for Lauren and her family, including a special quilt of Lauren's favorite things that was textured so that she could still enjoy it in the midst of her deteriorating eye sight. To help Lauren's parents with the high medical costs, Brownie Troop #644 held several successful fund-raisers (car washes, bake sales, etc.), raising thousands of dollars for the family.
When Lauren passed away on December 3, 1997, eight months after her diagnosis, the young girls of Brownie Troop #644 actively participated in her memorial service. They were part of the entrance processional during which, they put a single rose in a vase on the altar in her memory. Immediately after Lauren's death, the Troop bravely went to the hospital where Lauren received her treatments to deliver holiday cheer to other sick children in her memory.
The tragic experience of losing a dear friend sensitized these 8-year-old girls to the fact that there are so many people in need, and they have all vowed to service their community in memory of Lauren Costanzo. So far, they have kept their word by developing several community service projects that they plan to continue. Brownie Troop #644 has committed to visiting Lauren's hospital every year during the holiday season to give gifts to sick children. They collect baby clothes and supplies to make "Baby Bundles" which they donate to the Woman's Rights Info Center in Englewood, NJ to benefit young mothers in need. They also cook food provided by donations for the homeless shelter, Shelter Our Sisters. The troops conduct a Library Bazaar fundraiser to benefit their local library, as well. They plant trees, send valentines to disabled veterans, sing songs at Heritage Nursing Home in Norwood, NJ, and are currently developing a program to read to the elderly.
Brownie Troop #644 showed courage and compassion, and exemplified the spirit of giving throughout Lauren's tragic illness and continues to do so in memory of her life. They took a devastating circumstance, learned from it, and set the example for an entire community that young people are capable of making a difference and giving to people in need.