Candy Castle to Help Cure Childhood Cancer

By STEVE KAUFMAN
Contributing Writer

The second-floor lobby of the Starks Building will be turned into a giant interactive Candy Land board later this month.

The colorful game with its peppermint-stick motif is a natural attraction for young children at Christmas. But these aren’t just any young children, and Christmas fun isn’t the only purpose of the event.

The full name of the event is “Holiday Candy Land: Larger than Cancer!” While providing a fun afternoon for childhood cancer victims and their families it, will also hopefully raise some awareness, which will lead to raising much-needed funds.

The group behind it is Aiden’s Legacy. Aiden Johnson is a nine-year-old boy from Sellersburg, Ind. who was diagnosed with childhood leukemia six years ago and has been in and out of remission ever since.

The “group” is actually Aiden’s mother, Gena Johnson, though her level of energy and activity would put most groups to shame. This whirlwind of optimism and hope has been building her nonprofit foundation since her son began receiving treatment at Kosair Children’s Hospital. During Aiden’s treatment, Gena conducted some research and became convinced that Kosair needed additional support to compete more successfully against other regional facilities in Cincinnati and Nashville.

So she decided funds were necessary not only to fight the disease, but also to help support Kosair through the hospital’s Addison Jo Blair Cancer Care Center. She started her efforts in 2013 as Aiden’s Lego Legacy, named for his intense love of the plastic building blocks. When she’d visit him at the hospital, she’d bring Legos for all the children in the cancer ward and saw how they all flocked to the product. (She has since had to remove “Lego” from the name because of trademark issues raised by attorneys for the Danish company.)

“One of our missions is to help children with cancer forget about chemotherapy and other treatments by providing new Lego sets for their entertainment,” she says.

She has attracted partners to her campaign. River Metals Recycling, the region’s largest scrap metal reprocessor, heard about Aiden and jumped on board. She also is supported by Kids Cancer Alliance and Kosair Children’s Foundation.

For the upcoming invitation-only event, Saturday, Dec. 14 at Fourth Street and Muhammad Ali Boulevard, starting at noon, Johnson expects about 100 children plus family. In addition to walking the life-size Candy Land board – complete with bridges, winding roads, Gumdrop Pass, Licorice Forest and lollipops growing out of the ground – kids will be able to collect toys and other prizes along the way.

There will also be stations where kids will be able to play a life-size Plinko game or get very large prizes at a life-size Duck Pond. The stations are all sponsored by local businesses or by families that want to find a way to give back during the holiday season. For instance, at a Sugar Daddy-themed booth sponsored by the local office of Heartland Payment Systems, kids will get boxes of the iconic American candy bar first introduced in 1925.

The culmination of each childs’ journey will be a seat on Santa’s lap. Each child in attendance will receive a toy from Santa, and the children currently undergoing cancer treatment will receive a special collectible Lego Christmas ornament for their trees at home.

Sitting on Santa’s lap is a popular destination for most children this time of year. But these children and their parents have a longer-term culmination in mind, too – one that may take a little longer and cost a little more, but will provide so much more real happiness in the end.

Kroger Kicks In

Gena Johnson doesn’t have a large administrative staff manning the phones to find supporters and raise money. So she finds her allies the old-fashioned way.

Five Kroger stores in Southern Indiana – three in New Albany and one each in Clarksville and Jeffersonville – are conducting a Lego promotion. Stores will donate a portion of specially displayed boxes of Lego purchased to Aiden’s Legacy. Or, Lego purchases can be donated directly to the foundation.

“We fill all our prescriptions at the Charlestown Road Kroger store in New Albany and they’ve absolutely fallen in love with Aiden,” Johnson says. “When we came up with the foundation, they said they wanted to do something, to be a part of it.”

During the current promotion, signage in the front of the stores announces the Lego/Aiden’s Legacy campaign. Cashiers wear Aiden’s Legacy stickers on their uniforms. And a banner in the pharmacy department promotes the cause. The store that gathers the most donations will receive a certificate presented by Aiden himself.

How to Help Aiden’s Legacy

The invitation-only Holiday Candy Land afternoon is not a fundraiser, but there are nonetheless all kinds of ways for the general public to support Aiden’s Legacy.
Johnson says she’s always looking for new fundraising ideas and people to help organize a Lego drive, or just to donate time and effort.

To get more information, to help brainstorm other fundraising ideas or to find out how to donate, send Johnson an email at genajohnson15@gmail.com.