Little Girl, Big Heart

Little Girl, Big Heart

Clifton girl collects over 120 videos for sick children at INOVA Hospital.

Emma Tourtellotte may only be 11, but she's making a big difference for sick children at Inova Fairfax Hospital for Children.

Inspired by a friend of her family's, Emma has collected more than 120 videos and DVDs for children battling serious illnesses.

"I didn't think I'd get as many as I got, but I wanted to keep going," said Emma of the two-week drive for videos and DVDs she ran at her Hayden Village Park swimming pool.

Her parents, David and Kathleen Tourtellotte, recently lost a good friend, Mike Rinaldi, to a rare form of bile duct cancer. Before he died, he would call Emma and her younger brother and talk with them about doing well in school and being good children for their parents. It was a relationship that led Emma to want to do something to honor his memory after he was gone.

"Mike was traveling all over the country to try to get help from hospitals and trying to cure his cancer," said Emma.

At Rinaldi's funeral, flyers were handed out about "Help for Henry," a charitable foundation he had become involved with when he was sick which tries to provide sick children with "a normal life." Emma saw a flyer for the organization at his funeral and asked her mother when they could do a video drive.

"She'd ask me every day if we could do this and when," Kathleen Tourtellotte said. "She was very determined that this was going to happen. From the day school let out, she kept asking about it."

Emma was given little assignments, like typing up the fliers that were distributed around their Clifton neighborhood and selecting the two weeks for the drive, Kathleen Tourtellotte said.

They put out large plastic bins at the Hayden Village pool, where Emma is a member of the swim club, the Hayden Village Villains. Some days, when they went to collect the donations, the bins were full and plastic bags full of videos were waiting for them.

"I just wanted to help the children," said Emma, of her collection. "If they're going to be at the hospital for a while, they should be able to do something to keep their mind off it."

ONE NEIGHBOR gave Emma a check and told her to select some videos herself, Kathleen Tourtellotte said.

"It is in her personality to do something like this," she said. "She's a very caring person and she feels a lot of empathy.

Mike was the first person close to the kids to pass away and it was so sad for all of us."

It wasn't the first time Emma had gone out of her way to help a friend.

When she was in second grade, David Tourtellotte said, Emma saw a special needs student drop his lunch tray in the cafeteria. While other students just stared, Emma went up and helped the boy with his tray. A teacher saw this and nominated Emma for a Character Counts award, which recognizes students for being respectful and upholding six "pillars of citizenship."

"Emma had already won one of these awards that year, and students are only supposed to be able to get one a year," said David Tourtellotte. "But the teacher nominated her for a caring award and she won it."

After high school, Emma hopes to become a teacher, her father said. "She's a remarkable young lady. I'm very proud of her ... it warms my heart, it's a great thing to have a daughter like her."

Emma said she'll miss Rinaldi's personality most of all, but she wants other children to know they can help others just as much as adults.

"You can do anything to help," she said. "I just wanted the kids to have a big choice of videos to watch."

Kathleen Tourtellotte said she and her husband are proud of what their daughter accomplished as their living and dining rooms have filled with donations over the summer.

"She made this something positive to remember him," Kathleen Tourtellotte said. "She did this as a tribute to him."

Christi Adams, one of the Tourtellotte's neighbors, is the administration coordinator at INOVA Fairfax Hospital for Children and approached that department's director, Jamie Smith, about Emma's gift.

"She was really excited," Adams said. "I don't think they get a lot of donations like this, especially not from children."

Instead of simply dropping off the videos, Adams has been working with Smith and the Tourtellottes to arrange a special ceremony for Emma to give the videos to the children.

"We're all really impressed with this because Emma's so young," Adams said. "She's a very driven little girl. She does this type of thing all the times,. She's got the greatest ideas and no one tells her to do any of them, she does it on her own."

The video libraries in the cancer ward of the hospital aren't very extensive, Adams said, so Emma's surprise gift to the children will be especially welcome.

"The kids there don't get to go out too much," she said. "It'll be great to have new videos to watch."