Dream Big: Service organization works with local charity in memory of student

Eleven years isn’t a long time when looking at the world, but some of the most beautiful things in the world are also some of the most fleeting. Shooting stars last but a moment, rainbows fade quickly, and sunsets always end. So does life. This was the case for Erin Channing Buenger, who passed away in April of 2009 at the age of eleven, after losing her battle with neuroblastoma cancer. She was brave, kind, loving, and always had a fierce tenacity for life that was unmatched, even towards the end. Erin was the kind of person who never gave up, and once she started something, she would see it through to the end. That’s why Erin and her family started Erin’s Dream Lanyards in 2009, a small group of friends, family, and supporters that would meet and make beaded lanyards to sell for cancer research. Since her passing five years ago, the group has continued the work she started.

“Erin’s Dream Lanyards is a long-term project that brings volunteers together to make beautiful and sometimes whimsical lanyards and other beaded jewelry,” Erin’s mother, Vicki Buenger said. “One hundred percent of the funds raised by Erin’s Dream Lanyards goes to the Children’s Neuroblastoma Cancer Foundation to fund research in children’s cancer. We have volunteers and donors who make that possible, so that everyone’s efforts goes straight to helping find a cure for childhood cancer.”

While the project and Erin’s dream of finding a cure for childhood cancer are growing stronger every day, they had humble beginnings.

“Some friends introduced Erin to the concept of making lanyards with jewelry wire and glass beads during a long, boring chemo session late one late day during her sixth grade year,” Buenger said. “Erin paired that idea with the idea that her teachers might want to make a donation to the Children’s Neuroblastoma Cancer Foundation in exchange for having a cool and beautiful lanyard. Soon Erin’s lanyards became such a big hit that she needed help from friends to fill all of the orders.”

From the small word-of-mouth beginnings, Erin’s Dream Lanyards has grown to touch lives across the globe.

“Erin died in April 2009, a month short of finishing sixth grade at Jane Long Middle School.” Buenger said “During those few months she raised over $2000. Since then volunteers have raised over $80,000. Lanyards live on six continents, in 13 different countries, and in every US state. Two lanyards live in the White House, as Malia and Sasha received lanyards as gifts when their dad visited College Station in 2009.”

“Erin was creative, energetic, and loved by

her friends. She also loved to help others.”
–Vicki Buenger, Erin’s mother

While the organization has spread to an international level, the foundation will always be local, and members of the community, as well as students, are always welcome to help contribute to the group by buying, making, or helping sell lanyards.

“Since her death, lanyard making has continued to bring our friends together and has helped us make new friends,” Buenger said. “Use your imagination. If you have an idea, let’s figure out how to make it happen”

On campus, Key Club has partnered with Mrs. Buenger to bring the project to students and staff who are interested in helping find a cure for childhood cancer.

“One of our members actually brought it to my attention and asked about scheduling a club meeting to make lanyards,” Key Club sponsor Melinda Mack said, “we did and students loved doing it.”

As a community service organization, Key Club took on the project, seeing it as reflective of their ideals and objectives as a club.

“It is a completely selfless project,” Mack said. “Once the lanyards are made, students work during lunches to sell them and all the money is then donated to cancer research, in memory of Erin Buenger.”

Mack said that students interested in being involved and contributing to this in the future should contact her, listen to the announcements, or attend a Key Club meeting Monday after school in room 1200.

Because Erin was a Bryan ISD student, it distinguishes the lanyard project from other service activities. Erin would have graduated this year, and many of those who participate still have a personal connection.

“The main difference that makes the project unique is that Erin herself came up with the project” senior Jesse Baxter, a friend of Erin’s, said. “It has an emotional connection to a plethora of people which further contributes to projects success.”

Although Erin may not be here to physically see the legacy she left behind, her friends and family believe the project still reflects her personality and values.

“Erin would have been ecstatic to see how much the project has grown over the past few years,” Baxter said. “She was the original source of the idea for the project, so I think she would be very proud to see how much it accomplishes and how it has grown.”

Through Erin’s legacy, her friends are still able to join together with a common goal and try to leave ‘a touch of Erin’ on every lanyard, as well as on the world.

“Having a personal connection makes it special to me in a way that other organizations simply don’t,” Baxter said. “Every lanyard has a green bead which was Erin’s favorite color; she is still in everyone’s heart.”

Erin’s mom appreciates that so many people have given their continued support to her work, and while the organization continues changing, so too does those who are involved in it.

“When we bead, we share time, space, and conversation,” Buenger said. “As a bonus, Erin s friends have learned that you don’t have to be rich, powerful, or even grown up to make a difference.”