Each year, the Colts Neck Reformed Church Nursery School chooses a beneficiary of its Kids Helping Kids campaign, though which students do chores to raise money and donate to a worthy cause. This year, School Director Stacey Savage said, “The choice was easy. Liv Like a Unicorn was a natural fit.”
Liv Like a Unicorn is a 501(c)3 nonprofit with a goal of raising awareness, helping fund advancements in pediatric brain and spinal cord tumor research, and supporting families dealing with the devastating diagnosis of pediatric cancer. The organization was founded by the Lipnicky family after 7-year-old Olivia, “Liv,” was found to have a diffuse intrinsic pontine gliomas tumor in her spinal cord.
Liv, who attended Colts Neck Reformed Church Nursery School with her brother, had been complaining of shoulder pain and received an initial misdiagnosis of a sprain. After sleepless nights, several MRIs and few answers, Liv’s parents took her to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Here, they were told their daughter had a tumor and would need surgery.
Just days after her eighth birthday, she was admitted and booked for a 14-hour surgery, during which surgeons were able to remove 40 percent of the tumor.
“The doctors said because of this mutation it was upgraded to stage 4, and they estimated she had six to nine months to live,” Emma Lipnicky, Liv’s mother, said. “We were told to go home and make memories.”
Liv began radiation and enrolled in a clinical trial for a new medication. Her symptoms lessened throughout the summer, and while her parents threw themselves into research, Liv began thinking of ways she could help others affected by pediatric cancer.
“She never complained,” Emma Lipnicky said. “She worried more about the other kids fighting the same terrible disease.”
Liv organized a clothing drive that summer and raised more than $10,000 for pediatric cancer research. While she cared for others, doctors cared for her. Her condition worsened in the fall, and Liv tragically passed away on Nov. 6, 2019.
Before she passed, she and her parents began the Liv Like a Unicorn foundation through which they create “unicorn boxes” filled with toys, books and crafts to be delivered to families in the hospital with a child.
“Even a month before, when she was in hospice, she kept asking me, ‘Mommy, do you have the paperwork?’” Emma said, noting that Liv was eager to have the foundation officially recognized as a nonprofit. “She was our unicorn, so magical and perfect it’s like she wasn’t real.”
When Savage found out that a beloved former student had passed away, she immediately contacted the Lipnicky family and offered to help in any way.
“We’re a small school, but our reach is far,” Savage said. “The people at this school are like a family. We knew we had to help with the foundation and thought the Kids Helping Kids campaign was perfect.”
Parents were asked to invite their children to do chores around the home for money. Kids helped fold laundry, wash dishes and even care for their younger siblings – a task Liv was always eager to take on.
“I’ll never forget the day Jack [Liv’s younger brother] was so upset in class, and I called Liv down to go talk to him,” Savage said. “She just hugged him and told him, ‘It’s okay. I’m right here.’”
Emma added, “She was always his little mama.”
Now in her honor, the students at Colts Neck Reformed Church Nursery School have banded together to assist other families in similar, heartbreaking situations. They each did chores, saved money and purchased items to fill the unicorn boxes.
“Right now, we are working with individual families who have a child in the hospital with cancer,” Emma said. “The boxes are great for the whole family. The patient needs something to do, be occupied. Moms need something in their purse they can pull out. Siblings are so important too because they think, ‘Well what about me?’”
Savage said the students, although young, understand they are helping others when they take their money to the store and help their parents pick out a toy to donate.
“Like Liv always felt and we always tell the kids, ‘You’re never too little to help.’”
To learn more about the Liv Like a Unicorn Foundation, visit LivLikeAUnicorn.com or on Facebook @livlikeaunicorn.