By Sondra Barr
Photo courtesy of the Cunnius family

In the North Valley, a young boy named Carter Cunnius is turning his past challenges into a mission of joy for other kids. This 8-year-old, with twinkling eyes and an unstoppable spirit, is the mastermind behind a heartwarming toy drive that is making waves in the community and brightening the days of children at Phoenix Children’s Hospital.

Carter’s journey began in a way none of us would want. When he was only 4 years old, his doctors shared the news that he had a type of cancer known as leukemia. His days became filled with hospital visits, treatments, and many moments that required extraordinary bravery. After a challenging battle of two and a half years, Carter triumphantly emerged, being declared cancer-free one year ago.

However, his experience in the hospital wasn’t forgotten. During one particularly tough week, when an infection kept him bedridden, Carter experienced the boredom and sadness that can come with long hospital stays. A small box of LEGOs, which became a source of creativity and escape, sparked an idea in his thoughtful mind.

“My mom and I built it and took it apart so many times. I was so sad, and my mom kept making up games for us to play.  I still had a lot of unopened gifts at home and told my mom that I wanted to donate them so no kid would feel the way I did during that week,” says Carter.

That memory led to the birth of Carter’s toy drive, which kicked off in September 2020. With an objective to ensure no child felt the loneliness and boredom he once did, Carter, along with the support of his community, started collecting toys. His endeavor began to fill trucks and cars with toys destined for children in the hospital.

Carter, now a third grader at Deer Valley Unified School District’s (DVUSD) Norterra Canyon School, is inspiring not just adults, but his classmates too. Together, they’ve been gathering toys by the hundreds, establishing a tower that symbolizes hope, kindness, and youthful solidarity. This year marks the third of Carter’s initiative, and it’s not just about collecting toys, but also about remembering and honoring friends made along the way. Last year’s drive paid tribute to a young friend, Junior, who sadly lost his fight with cancer.

In Carter’s words, the best part about organizing the toy drive each year is “knowing kids will feel loved and it will take their mind off of what they’re going through.” And his top pick for a universal toy? LEGOs, as he believes “everyone loves LEGOs!”

His mom, Marie Cunnius, stands proudly by his side, her perspective on life profoundly altered by their journey. She emphasizes the importance of valuing what truly matters in life and encourages others to always accept help when it is genuinely offered. Marie believes that no family should navigate the challenging journey of childhood cancer alone.

Readers, if Carter’s story inspires you, there’s a way for you to be part of this inspiring initiative! Carter’s cause will be back in action next September during Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, inviting everyone to participate through Norterra Canyon School or DVUSD.

Young Carter, despite his experiences, turned pain into purpose and is a living testament to how acts of kindness, big or small, can radiate through a community, lifting spirits and making a real difference. His story reminds us all that no matter how tough the journey, there’s always a way to bring a little sunshine into the lives of others.

Remember, even the smallest hands can move mountains and the youngest hearts can show immense kindness. Kudos to Carter and every young person out there making a difference, one small act of kindness at a time.