Runway to good
Tim Woodhall had every intention of turning down 17-year-old Jenelle "Nellie" Krumlauf when she begged him to meet with her about a fashion show to raise money for pediatric cancer. He only agreed to the meeting because Krumlauf wouldn't stop calling the Hilton Columbus at Easton, where Woodhall works as director of sales and marketing.
But instead of blowing off Krumlauf, Woodhall was blown away.
"If you're even in the same room with her, you're caught up in the cause," Woodhall said. He eventually agreed to let the then-junior at Reynoldsburg High School hold her fashion show at the hotel for free. "She's a salesman for the cause, and they couldn't ask for a better salesperson," he said. "She's phenomenal."
When Krumlauf was 8, her grandmother, a fashionable woman who always encouraged her to play dress-up, died of cancer. So as a high school sophomore, Krumlauf organized her first fashion show and raised a couple thousand dollars for cancer patients. She chose to help kids because it seemed as though there were fewer organizations dedicated to them.
The death of a young patient who she had befriended while planning her first show fueled Krumlauf's desire to do even more. "I remember sitting at her funeral my senior year of high school," Krumlauf said. "I was heartbroken. That was the first kid funeral I went to. It made me upset. It made me angry. I made a promise to Eden that day that I wasn't going to stop. I was going to keep fighting for these kids. I'm a woman of my word, and I'm not stopping."
Now planning her fifth-anniversary show, Krumlauf has raised more than $50,000 to help children with cancer-and she aims to raise $50,000 more at this year's event alone. Her nonprofit, Nellie's Catwalk for Kids, has expanded beyond the show, too, organizing a golf outing, dance marathon and 5K run.
The organization uses the funds to improve the lives of cancer patients and their families.
Krumlauf, a 20-year-old sophomore at Ohio Dominican University, takes youngsters on outings to the movies and the zoo. She gives gas cards to parents so they can take their children to doctors' appointments. She delivers food, clothing and care packages to families while their children are hospitalized.
She has helped form a support group called Mothers Against Childhood Cancers.
And she sponsors Nellie's Clubs in local high schools to spread awareness about pediatric cancers and raise money for the charity. The clubs motivate other young people to use their strengths for a greater good, she said (see "Nellie's Clubs: 15 & Counting").
"No matter what age you are, you can make a difference," she said. "You don't have to be 40 years old to make a difference."
Krumlauf's age and natural way with children work to her advantage when she visits patients at Nationwide Children's Hospital, said Jessica Lewis, whose daughter Hannah has walked the runway in Krumlauf's show. Hannah's friendship with Krumlauf has provided the 10-year-old with good memories about her battle with cancer, Lewis said. Hannah, who was only 5 when she was diagnosed with cancer in her head and neck, has forgotten how hard the fight was, her mother said. "It's something positive from a negative experience," said Lewis of New Albany. "She remembers the good things that have come from cancer."
Krumlauf's desire to help children while they fight cancer rather than raise money to "cure" the disease shows a remarkable understanding of the issues, added Dr. Irene Koesters, a pediatrician who serves on the charity's board.
"It's great to have those high hopes," Koesters said of curing cancer, but with so many types of cancer it makes more sense to focus on aiding kids and their families. "She gets that these kids were given a cross to bear," she said. "She wants to give them as much happiness as they can have while they're going through this. That's incredibly insightful."
Nellie's Clubs: 15 & Counting
When Jessica Soroky interviewed Nellie Krumlauf for an article for the Pickerington North High School paper, she was moved by her desire to help young cancer patients.
"The way she talked about it, I saw her passion for it," recalled Soroky. "It was almost intoxicating."
After the interview, Soroky decided she wanted to help Krumlauf. She organized a club at her high school to raise money for Nellie's Catwalk for Kids and increase awareness about pediatric cancer patients.
The club was so successful that Soroky reached out to other schools to see if they would form clubs, too. Fifteen area high schools have created their own.
The clubs not only raise money for a good cause, they empower and educate students who participate, said Sarah Whitcraft, advisor for the Pickerington North club. Hearing the stories of children fighting cancer has made many of the students take stock of their own good fortune, she said. "It's amazing," she said. "Even for me-it makes me appreciate every little moment I have with my kids."
Krumlauf likes that the clubs give more young people the chance to impact their world. "The greatest opportunity you can give a teenager is to open their eyes to something that really is happening around them," she said. "I really want them to feel like they can have a huge, important role in making a difference."
Meet the Patients
Several cancer patients have participated in Nellie's Catwalk for Kids. Here, meet three.
Hometown: New Albany
On the show:
"I like to see my friends who are also in the show, and it's fun and gives me confidence that people will help the children in the hospital."
"She's fun and nice, and always includes me in activities."
On pediatric cancer:
"In the hospital, it was the little things that made me smile. Like, when volunteers would give me movies, do crafts, play games, give me toys. We need to raise money for research, and also for all the little things to makekids smile."
On the show:
"It's raising awareness in a fun way. It was cool (walking the runway). It was just really fun."
"She's fun, and she acts like a kid. She's just a great person. She likes making a difference. She's a really nice and generous person."
On pediatric cancer:
"We need to talk about it so that we can raise more money to find a cure."
On the show:
"I love the fact that it's cancer kids. Some of them are bald that are walking down the runway. You have fun that day, and forget all your problems for at least a night."
"She's in your corner. It's amazing. You know you're never alone. You always have someone you can call. She just tries to keep all the kids' spirits up."
On pediatric cancer:
"People only think of adults getting cancer. There's a lot of kids around the world fighting for lives."