As I walk up the driveway to an adorable house and hear little voices and giggles in range, I knock on the door. I'm greeted by a high-pitched bubbly voice on the other side.
“You want to talk to my mom," the little voice asked.
I could barely see through the mesh screen, but could make out she was petite and bouncy, her blonde ponytail swaying in rhythm with her jumping. I asked her if she was Lauranna and that if so, I was here to talk to her about all the important things she was doing.
From the outside, Lauranna looks like every other playful child. On the inside, she has a spirit far more ambitious and mature for her years.
This is a story about a young girl’s journey and her personal vision to help other children like herself, even in her own time of need. Since birth, Lauranna has been through many ear, nose, and throat surgeries including having nine sets of ear tubes, three sinus surgeries, her tonsils and adenoids removed and cartilage grafting to repair two holes in her ear drum. This week she's following up with her specialist.
I hear her mother’s voice from the other room, telling her I could come in. (I’ve known her mother’s family since at least middle school, but this was the first time I've seen her mom in almost twenty years). I walk in and I’m immediately asked if I want to see her 6-month-old cat Oreo. Lauranna jets off with her friend to find her.
They always said good things come in small packages and there is no exception when it comes to 7 year-old Lauranna Hancock. She was busy getting ready for her birthday party that afternoon yet she still managed to squeeze me in to her tight schedule for this personal interview. I felt honored.
In her short time here on earth, this little wonder has compassion and empathy for others who have walked in her shoes. Without a doubt, she intends to make a difference for them.
After introducing me to her cat (after bribes of treats to lure her out from under her mom’s bed), Lauranna sat down to tell me her remarkable story.
At the tender age of only 5-years old, it was during one of her hospital stays that inspired her to turn this difficult experience into something positive for others.
“When I was recovering from one of my operations, my mom read to me. I closed my eyes and pretended I was the character she was reading about and I didn’t feel so sick for a little while. I knew I wanted to do this for other kids so that they too could also escape feeling sick,” Lauranna said.
It was at this moment that she made the commitment to give the gift of “going to a faraway place” to other ill children. Inspired by another young friend who collects and donates teddy bears to others, Lauranna realized she could do this too by providing the gift of books. Thus she founded her special program called “Ranna Reads”.
Writing a personal letter to friends and family, Lauranna started her quest by asking for donations of new and gently used books suited for ages three through 11. These books are personally delivered for donation to All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg and The Ronald McDonald House. Lauranna is not able to read to these children being housed at these locations due to the possibility of infections and viruses, so she reads to local preschools and donates books there as well.
Last year alone, she collected over 200 books and did this in conjunction with a project for Bauder Elementary’s gifted program project, “Make the World a Better Place.” Lauranna also read to three preschool classes at the Write Start Learning Center in Seminole.
Lauranna will continue her project every year on her own. This year is the third that “Ranna Reads” has been in service. Her letter is already written for this year’s collection. She will start advertising in August and will request donations of books through November 10th to ensure delivery in time for the holidays. Donation sites include her grandmother’s home in Seminole and The Pinellas Education Foundation in Largo.
“Her energy never stops regardless of the ear surgeries and countless doctor visits,” said Suzan Hanock, Lauranna's mother.
In her spare time, Lauranna enjoys playing with her friends and taking her grandmother’s dog for walks. She is also on an all-star cheerleading team at Rock Solid AllStars and enjoys every minute of it.
It’s not every day that you come across people giving to their communities, and it’s especially rare to discover a child so young who has found this passion all on her own. I am humbled by this little blonde haired dynamo who has selflessly chosen to turn her struggles and obstacles into a path of purpose. And as her mom lovingly gazed at her daughter while she spoke to me, I know that words cannot describe how proud she must be of her child, but her smile said enough.
This column is intended to share the amazing stories of individuals and organizations that are giving to the community of Largo, touching the lives of others.
If you would like to nominate someone special to be featured, email me at email@example.com.
You can donate books for Ranna Reads starting in August at:
The Pinellas Education Foundation
12090 Starkey Road
Largo, Fl 33773