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HVA, CHS students grant a wish for Chris

Two Girl Scouts from Hardin Valley Academy and Knoxville Catholic High School rallied peers to overhaul Fulton High School student and two-time cancer survivor Chris Isbill’s bedroom Saturday, March 6, in North Knoxville for their Girl Scout’s Gold Award project.

HVA sophomore Xrista Christopoulos and KCHS sophomore C.C. Hermes grew up side-by-side in Girl Scouts and decided to complete their Gold Award project together after volunteering at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital last summer.

“This project seemed to fit both of us. But since it was so expensive and such a big deal, we were allowed to work together,” C.C. said.

Chris was chosen by Seth Linkous, associate director for public relations at ETCH. The girls met Chris two weeks prior to the remodel, hearing Chris’ dream for the room.

“Chris told us what he likes and we tried to make it his dream. We wanted to surprise him too,” C.C. said.

Lise Bender, with program services for Girl Scout Council of the Southern Appalachians, said, “What C.C. and Xrista did was so different – plan the project, solicit peers as volunteers, organize and deliver the project.”

C.C. was more involved in the decoration. Xrista was more involved in the construction side of the project. They were two different projects, Bender said.

Xrista rallied HVA’s Student Government Association for their help.

They raised $900 and HVA Principal Sallee Reynolds arranged for a discounted price for a Best Buy TV, HVA sophomore Courtney Such said.

Additional funds for construction and the construction work were overseen by Xrista’s father, Christos Christopoulos of Christopoulos & Kennedy General Contractors.

“We want to reflect real leadership in our efforts,” HVA SGA advisor Tim Lee said.

C.C. involved KCHS’s Y-Teens Club and other KCHS students. She was able to raise $600 through Girl Scout cookie sales, a movie night rally at KCHS and other collections.

A down comforter, sofa, bookshelf, rug, paint, desk and floor lamps and storage boxes were among the items C.C. purchased with the funds she raised.

The groups paid attention to detail.

“He likes rapping, rap music and his shoe collection reflects that. We knew his shoes were important to him,” Christopoulos said.

Their goal was to rearrange his room, create spaces and give him a seating, eating space and a sleeping, dressing area, Christopolous said.

For Chris’s love of rap music, the students painted lyrics Chris had written on a bedroom wall and a music scale. HVA student Michael Zielske spelled “Chris” graffiti-style above his bed.

“We’re pleased because what I hope for my children as they get into their teenage years is for them to help others. That’s what Xrista is doing,” Christopolous said.

But this project hit close to home for Xrista, C.C. and the groups they organized. Chris is their age. He goes to school just like they do – even while suffering the effects of chemotherapy treatments. Chris is an “inspiration,” Xrista wrote on a bedroom wall beside other encouraging words from the other students involved.

Before leaving for breakfast, Chris’s parents, Mitzi and Scott Branch, took a moment to look at nearly 30 high school volunteers clearing out Chris’s room.

“High Schoolers aren’t supposed to spend their Saturday helping people. I heard there are nearly 80 coming,” Scott said.

“There’s so many people coming together, it’s amazing to see,” Mitzi said.

The Gold Award is the highest honor a Girl Scout can achieve; it is similar to a Boy Scout’s Eagle Award.


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