When Emmitt Skidmore, a 5-year-old kindergartener at North Star Elementary, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the Kodiak community rallied in support of the family.
Emmitt began chemotherapy Oct. 8. He still faces five to nine months of aggressive treatment in Anchorage. Parents Jen, a teacher at North Star Elementary, and Jed, an assistant plant manager for Trident Seafoods, have had their lives turned upside down. But support from their coworkers has helped put things back together.
For now, Jen and Emmitt are living in an apartment in Anchorage while Jed stays in Kodiak and takes care of Emmitt’s older siblings.
The family and his doctors hope Emmitt will be able to return to Kodiak at the end of this treatment phase, but treatment is expected to last between two and three years total, with frequent trips from Kodiak to Anchorage and back. Fundraising efforts by the Kodiak community will help offset the family’s travel and medical expenses.
The North Star Elementary Sunshine Committee, led by teachers Natalie Horn, Victoria Christiansen and Danielle Specht, has organized “Team Emmitt” shirts, which are sold for $20. In addition to funds, the shirts have raised Emmitt’s spirits.
“Chemotherapy can have some painful side effects and one of these is lockjaw. One day, early on, Emmitt was having a particularly hard day and in talking with Jen I learned that he had not been able to really talk or eat, let alone smile, but then Jen started receiving photos of people wearing #TEAMEMMITT T-shirts and for the first time all day he smiled,” Jed wrote in an email to the Kodiak Daily Mirror.
“Fridays have become the day that Emmitt looks forward to most, despite this also being a treatment day, because the whole community has started wearing ‘his shirts’ in support of him. Jen has also started printing off all the pictures she is receiving and making a collage on the wall in the apartment they are living in for Emmitt to turn to when he is hurting or missing his friends,” Jed said.
More than 200 shirts have been sold to employees at North Star Elementary and Trident Seafoods, according to Christiansen
“North Star Elementary, Trident Seafoods and Kodiak as a whole have absolutely embraced our family and lifted us up. The outpouring of love was immediate. Before we even had a confirmed diagnosis, people from all over were asking what they could do to help,” Jed said. “Seeing the way Kodiak has united to support Emmitt and our family has been overwhelmingly beautiful.”
The Sunshine Committee, which is usually responsible for supporting and celebrating North Star staff members, used to count Jen as one of its members. Now, the committee members have taken it upon themselves to return the favor. They have sold more than 400 shirts, with plans to print more in the future. They have also opened an account for donations at Credit Union 1.
Trident stepped up its game, too: The fish processing plant’s corporate department has promised to match 100% of funds raised from community donations.
On Nov. 4, the end of the first phase of Emmitt’s treatment, employees of Trident and North Star came together to take a photo wearing their #TEAMEMMITT shirts, “So that Emmitt can really feel the power of what’s going on here,” Christiansen said.
“At this point we don’t have a goal, because we already exceeded what we ever thought we’d make,” Christiansen said when asked if there is any fundraising target. For the Skidmore family, this makes frequent round-trip travel from Kodiak to Anchorage possible.
“Jen and I want to express how deeply grateful we are and how humbling this experience has been. In the beginning hours of this experience we felt that our lives had been turned upside down. We felt helpless for Emmitt and lost as parents. This community, all of you, have become more than just the silver lining on a gray cloud,” Jed said. “There is a long and uncertain road ahead, but we know we will make it through. We love you all and need you to know what you mean to our family.”
Community members interested in buying a shirt or donating to the Skidmore family can call Natalie Horn at 907-942-3447 or donate online through GoFundMe at https://bit.ly/36AcMgg.