Since 2010, Christine’s Hope For Kids has raised more than $1 million in its mission to help less fortunate children and to support local community agencies whose own missions are to help children in need. Long-time Hopewell Valley residents and Christine’s Hope founders Jean and John Gianacaci believe that every child deserves the chance to be a kid, regardless of their circumstances.
One major focus of the organization through the years has been literacy. Christine’s Hope regularly holds book fairs around the area to help raise funds, and every year around Christmastime, Christine’s Hope volunteers often pack books in bags along with pajamas, blankets and other necessities to be donated to children at local shelters.
This year, there will be a new book going into those bags: Always Better Together: A Story of Acceptance, Friendship and Love. It’s a children’s book commissioned by the organization and written by Christine’s Hope board member Linda Martin, a Ewing resident and the shopkeeper of the recently closed Flutter Boutique in Pennington.
Always Better Together tells the story of Ella and Sara, who meet and become best friends after Sara moves to Ella’s neighborhood one summer. The friendship is tested once school starts because Sara’s friends don’t immediately accept Sara, who is a stutterer. Through the experience, Ella learns important lessons about accepting other people for their differences.
“The books we buy (to put in the bags) are great, but I really wanted a book with a message of kindness and acceptance,” Jean Gianacaci says. “And to make it so that every child received the same book. Linda is an excellent writer, and she has done an amazing book for us.”
The Gianacacis founded the nonprofit to honor their daughter, Christine, who died while on a humanitarian mission to Haiti in January 2010. Christine was one of 12 Lynn University students who were in Port-au-Prince when a massive earthquake struck, causing the hotel where the group was staying to collapse. Two professors and four students, including Christine, were killed in the disaster.
Gianacaci says it has long been a dream of hers to have a book written in memory of Christine, who, like the character of Sara in the story, dealt with some challenges growing up.
When she was 11, Christine was diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome, and because of tics that she had that are associated with Tourette’s, she was sometimes bullied or excluded. “She felt the impact of sitting alone in the cafeteria, or not being invited to a party because of a tic,” Gianacaci says. “And throughout her challenges, she was always kind. She always sought out the kid who was being ignored. Her kindness and compassion for others always came through.”
Martin says she wanted to write a story that kids would be able to see themselves in.
“There were themes we wanted to come through in the story, like bullying,” Martin says. “People think of bullying as someone pushing someone against a locker, but there are other kinds of bullying: peer pressure, exclusion. I think it’s going to be a wonderful tool that can open up a dialog between a parent and a child, and also for teachers to open up that same dialog with students.”
The 40-page hardcover book, written by Martin and illustrated by Anita Barghigiani, is on sale now for $24.95. Gianacaci says all proceeds from sales of the book will go toward the organization’s various initiatives.
“It’s been a challenging year for everybody (because of the Covid-19 pandemic) but I think you just learn to go in different directions,” Gianacaci says. “We usually get a lot of toys donated to us (for distribution around the holidays). This year that hasn’t been possible, but we’re very fortunate that we can afford to purchase the toys we’ll be giving away this year. The kids are still there, no matter what we’re going through. The kid still need us.”
For more information, to order copies of the book, or to donate to Christine’s Hope For Kids, go online to christineshope.org or call (609) 406-7681.