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updated: 12/13/2011 3:15 PM

Hanover girl helping ill Carpentersville boy through Jewish faith

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  • Mariah Reeves and her mom, Sandy, of Hanover Park, started fundraising efforts to help the family of a sick boy from Carpentersville. The Reeves family celebrates Christmas and Hanukkah, and Mariah is using her upcoming bat mitzvah to make Christmas cheerier for the boy's family.

       Mariah Reeves and her mom, Sandy, of Hanover Park, started fundraising efforts to help the family of a sick boy from Carpentersville. The Reeves family celebrates Christmas and Hanukkah, and Mariah is using her upcoming bat mitzvah to make Christmas cheerier for the boy's family.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • Tina Saavedra of Carpentersville spends most of her time caring for son Nathan, 3, who needs a second kidney transplant.

       Tina Saavedra of Carpentersville spends most of her time caring for son Nathan, 3, who needs a second kidney transplant.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Mariah Reeves, 12, of Hanover Park dons a tallit, the prayer shawl she'll wear during her March 17 bat mitzvah. She's completing 13 service project before the event, one that through charitable giving helps a Carpentersville family.

       Mariah Reeves, 12, of Hanover Park dons a tallit, the prayer shawl she'll wear during her March 17 bat mitzvah. She's completing 13 service project before the event, one that through charitable giving helps a Carpentersville family.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • Mariah Reeves with her mom, Sandy, of Hanover Park, looks over the list of 13 service projects she needs to complete before her bat mitzvah. Mariah Reeves has decided to help the Saavedra family to satisfy one of the 13 good deeds. The Saavedras live in Carpentersville and have fallen on hard times.

       Mariah Reeves with her mom, Sandy, of Hanover Park, looks over the list of 13 service projects she needs to complete before her bat mitzvah. Mariah Reeves has decided to help the Saavedra family to satisfy one of the 13 good deeds. The Saavedras live in Carpentersville and have fallen on hard times.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • Nathan Saavedra, 3, of Carpentersville needs a kidney after the last donation failed.

       Nathan Saavedra, 3, of Carpentersville needs a kidney after the last donation failed.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

 
 

Editor's note: In a story in Tue This story was updated to correct the fax number for potential kidney donors. In addition, while monetary or gift card donations can be sent to Congregation Beth Tivkah or Lincoln Prairie School in Hoffman Estates, donations also may be made out and sent to Sandy Reeves, 7486 Cumberland Drive, Hanover Park, 60133.

Mariah Reeves comes from a working-class family in Hanover Park and knows what it is to scrimp and save. But Mariah's parents also brought up the 12-year-old to give back to others, especially this time of year. So Mariah is drawing on her Jewish faith to help the family of a boy she's never met to have a merrier Christmas.

Nathan Saavedra is a 3-year-old Carpentersville boy who already has had a kidney transplant and needs another.

Besides Nathan's malady -- he suffers from prune belly syndrome -- the Saavedra family of Carpentersville has fallen on hard times.

Nathan's father, Juan, had been working a series of temporary jobs after he lost his job two years ago, but that work dried up six months ago. Nathan's mother, Tina, left her job to look after the boy full time and shuttle him to his doctor's appointments. The Saavedras have two other children -- Alexis, 8, and Jeremiah, 6. The family of five lives on $600 a month.

"I'm not happy Christmas is coming because financially we're a mess and all that," Tina said. "My kids don't understand. I tell them I don't have money and they say, 'Santa has money.' I told them not to expect a lot of presents."

Mariah has taken it upon herself to publicize Nathan's kidney campaign to her more than 500 Facebook friends, and started a Christmas gift card campaign at her school, Lincoln Prairie, and her temple, Congregration Beth Tikvah, both in Hoffman Estates. Her family recognizes both Hanukkah and Christmas -- her mom is Jewish and dad Christian.

Mariah plans to donate a portion of the cash gifts from her bat mitzvah to the Saavedras. The gift card campaign ends Friday.

As of Thursday, she'd raised a combined $210 in gift cards and cash.

"I feel really good about it because we're donating all the money that people are sending," Mariah said, adding that she wants to make sure the Saavedras have a wonderful holiday season. "It's hard for them to have hope."

The seventh-grader is three months away from her bat mitzvah, a coming of age ceremony that symbolizes young adulthood in the Jewish faith -- in Hebrew, "bat" means girl and "mitzvah" means good deeds.

Before children go through the ceremony, they must complete 13 service projects in 10 categories. Mariah's project for the Saavedras falls under the "loving acts of kindness" category. The project is called a "tzedakah," which in Hebrew means contributing money to a charity.

Facebook unites them

How the Saavedras got on the Reeveses' family radar is another story entirely.

Four years ago, Mariah's mother, Sandy Reeves, discovered she had a cousin named Sara Saavedra and reconnected with her on Facebook. Earlier this year, Reeves was looking for more Saavedra relatives on the social media network when she came across Nathan Saavedra's page.

His family is not related to the Reeves family and they've never met in person.

Nathan's prune belly syndrome is a birth defect that causes an underdeveloped stomach and leads to a host of health issues, especially with the urinary tract and kidneys. Nathan eats his meals through a feeding tube, is unable to walk and is on dialysis 10 hours a day because of the disease.

After reading about Nathan's need for a kidney, Carpentersville resident Chris Doing -- another person who'd not known Nathan beforehand -- stepped forward in October 2010 to donate a kidney to the little boy. But in March, doctors had to remove the kidney because it folded over on itself and there was no blood flowing to it. His mother says he has a 2 percent chance of finding a compatible donor.

"I just felt bad just like everybody else and that guy who donated the kidney, that was a wonderful thing to do," Sandy Reeves said. "I mean, this is a man who doesn't even know them. So I'm always curious. That's just how we are; we're very simple."

Reeves started communicating with Nathan's mom. Reeves works for Tastefully Simple and organized a fundraiser for the family that brought in $400. That's where the help started from the Reeveses.

"We're just hoping to brighten up their holidays a little bit," said Mariah's father, Craig.

And now, Mariah has extended the family partnership by using her bat mitzvah preparations for the Saavedras' benefit. Sandy Reeves recently told Tina Saavedra about her daughter's project.

"I pretty much was in tears, telling her 'Thank you,' because she told me not to worry about Christmas," Saavedra said.

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