Crystal Lake school bus driver helps nonprofit collect Lego sets for kids in hospitals

District 47 hosts their first Lego drive to support Bricks of Hope

A teddy bear dressed in a Lego costume sits on a motorcycle during the Ride for Kids motorcycle charity ride for Bricks of Hope in 2023.

Crystal Lake School District 47 bus driver Stacey Balmes was sweeping her bus and listening to STAR 105.5 on the radio when she heard about the founder of the nonprofit Bricks of Hope collecting Lego sets for sick kids during their hospital stays to help create play and build hope in their recoveries.

“It was just an instantaneous, ‘I want to know this guy and I want to know what that is,’ ” she said. “It’s small, it’s simple, but it has a big impact.”

Since then, Balmes has helped bring Bricks of Hope efforts to McHenry County by starting a charity motorcycle ride event and a Lego drive at District 47 schools. Last year the Ride for Kids event drew 75 motorcycle riders and 125 attendees to raise more than $10,000 and collect more than 600 new Lego sets, Balmes said. Balmes hopes to raise $15,000 and collect 1,000 kits at this year’s ride on Aug. 24.

Bricks of Hope is an organization started by Wauconda resident Adam Petraglia in December 2021. As a childhood cancer survivor, Petraglia found solace in playing with Legos during his extended hospital stays. Two and a half years after starting to collect new Lego sets for kids going through similar experiences, Petraglia delivered his 10,000th kit this week.

“I never try to put goals on anyone because it comes down to a one-to-one impact,” Petraglia said. “If one person donates one Lego set, that is truly changing the life of one sick kid.”

Bricks of Hope delivers to area children’s hospitals including Lurie, Advocate Children’s, Rush, Comer, Shriners, La Rabida and Saint Alexius. Petraglia has been able to reach hospitals in Peoria, Rockford, Springfield and Michigan, with all donations staying local, he said.

Petraglia was diagnosed with leukemia on his 11th birthday. He felt his childhood was being taken away and he shut down with feelings of fear and anger, he said.

“Playing Legos was an opportunity to express those feelings,” he said. “It just restored the feeling of being a kid again.”

Balmes coordinates the motorcycle riding event with two members in her Woodstock-based women’s motorcycle group PONO Lady Riders, Melissa Liden and Roberta Homatas. The three women are Petraglia’s “heart and soul” in getting Bricks of Hope in McHenry County, Petraglia said. This year’s ride on Aug. 24 will start at the Harvard Moose Lodge and ride to Niko’s Grill and Pub in Marengo for a post-ride celebration with a car show, food, live music and raffles.

Balmes continues spreading the donations by bringing a Lego drive to nine District 47 schools. Since starting the drive, which runs until May 17, Balmes has heard multiple stories from parents and teachers that have been directly impacted by Bricks of Hope, she said. Students who may not be able to donate are encouraged to write letters of encouragement to children in the hospital, District 47 Director of Communications and Public Engagement Kari Firak said.

Petraglia’s main goal for Bricks of Hope is to sustain enough Lego sets to support every hospital with a children’s department in Illinois and the Chicago area year round, specially in the summer months when holiday gifts start to run dry, he said. Currently, the nonprofit typically delivers 300 to 450 new Lego sets a month.

“As long as sick kids exist, we need to exist,” he said. “Treatment isn’t seasonal so we can’t be either.”

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