One mother’s story touched Johnny Haver deeply.
They were attending the St. Katherine Drexel Church when she approached the Silver Spring Township youth. The woman had encouraging words about the Hugs for Hope drive he started with his older brother, Frankie.
“She said her child was at the Penn State Milton Hershey children’s hospital when he was younger,” said Haver, 17, a senior at Cumberland Valley High School. “She remembers him receiving a stuffed animal from a similar drive.”
The simple gift of the toy helped her son recover. The woman wanted to pass on her good will to the collection at the church and the school.
Four years ago, the siblings teamed up to launch an annual effort to gather new stuffed animals from the community to distribute to hospital patients Christmas morning.
“We always had so many stuffed animals as kids,” said Haver, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Frank Haver. “We saw the joy they could bring us as children. We thought if the kids at the hospital could just receive one brand new stuffed animal for Christmas, it would provide hope for them.”
Starting Tuesday, collection bins will be set up in the high school office and main entrance for people to donate stuffed animals. Bins will also be available at the church.
Each year, the Haver family transports the stuffed animals from the collection points in Cumberland County to the hospital in Derry Township, Dauphin County. There, staff members allow the parents of patients to pick out a toy for their child to receive from Santa. Hugs for Hope is just one example of how Haver wants to have a positive impact on others.
“I believe one of my defining characteristics is being a strong leader,” Haver said. “What has molded me into a strong leader throughout the years is not just my desire to succeed, but more importantly my passion for helping others.”
Growing up, Haver made trips to State College to participate in the annual Thon to raise money for the Four Diamonds Fund that benefits the children’s hospital. Both his parents are Penn State alumni.
Closer to home, Haver has been involved in the high school Mini-Thon as a communications committee member his sophomore and junior years and as a facilities committee co-chairman his senior year. The facilities committee is in charge of making sure all the equipment for each fundraising event is set up properly.
The most challenging event will be the actual Mini-Thon scheduled for March 9-10. As a co-chair, Haver works with about 50 volunteers.
“They come together for such an awesome cause,” Haver said. “My biggest emphasis as a leader is to just make sure everyone is included. Everyone has a role and should feel important because they are.”
He is also the National Honor Society president.
Outside of school, Haver participates in The Outreach Program for Soccer, a community-based program where high school students mentor special needs children on how to play soccer.
“We help them learn new skills,” he said. “They also learn how to work together as teammates. It helps them become better people. My freshman through junior year, I was a buddy paired up with a specific kid to help them out as a personal coach.”
This year, Haver is a captain in charge of organizing all the practices and drills for many of the youngest children in the program. One touching experience involved helping a girl get interested in the sport.
“When she first got there she didn’t really want to play soccer,” Haver said. “All she wanted to do was throw the ball over my head. I was discouraged. I didn’t think I would be able to teach her how to play soccer.”
His perspective changed after he realized the best approach was to be patient and make her happy rather than be strict with the rules. Haver started by having the girl practice how to throw a soccer ball into play.
Eventually he got her to kick the ball and to take the sport a lot more seriously. Now the girl is in a older group of students at a higher skill level. “It was a tangible way to measure progress,” Haver said.
From a young age, Haver has had a passion for math, his favorite subject. He also takes high-level science courses. After graduating, Haver plans to pursue a college degree in either biotechnical or mechanical engineering.
“I want to see my impact on the world,” Haver said. “I want to be able to apply math in the real world.” His first choice in higher education is the Schreyer Honors College of Penn State University where his brother Frankie is studying actuarial science.
In his junior year, Haver joined the Technology Students Association and at the state competition in 2017 he and his team earned a second place finish in scientific visualization for an animated clip on space mining. He was also part of a team that placed ninth in the state in the biotechnology category.