A 9-year-old's Nonprofit is Still Giving Back 12 Years Later
Started by college student Conner Hagins when he was 9 years old, Cuddles for Kids strives to brighten up the lives of hospital patients with toys, treats and special events.
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Hagins also recently teamed up with the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation to donate and sell Pillow Pets. His organization even has created scholarships for Pittsburgh-area high school students who, like him, are making a difference in their community.
Eleanor Reigel, executive director of Ronald McDonald House Charities of Pittsburgh and Morgantown, speaks glowingly of Cuddles for Kids. Last year, proceeds from a fundraiser Hagins organized at LaRoche were used to buy toiletries that were placed in welcome bags given to families staying at Ronald McDonald House. Another Cuddles for Kids drive provided toys for the Toy Forest, a room filled with toys for Ronald McDonald House guest families and their children.
“It’s the little things [Conner] does that make a huge, huge difference to our families,” Reigel says.
Cuddles for Kids also has won the hearts of a number of Penguins and Steelers players and their significant others. The Moats family are frequent Cuddles volunteers, as is Pens winger Bryan Rust and his fiancée, Kelsey Burton. KDKA traffic anchor and PensTV host Celina Pompeani is another notable fan who has volunteered with the organization.
Burton says she felt an instant connection with Hagins, who reached out to her on social media. “It’s inspiring how dedicated [Hagins] is to helping others. You don’t see that all the time with people his age,” Burton says. “It’s something that really stood out to Bryan and I. We couldn’t be any more happy to work alongside Conner at these events. He has the biggest heart of gold.”
Leo, though, may be Hagins’ biggest fan. The now 7-year-old has twice served as honorary captain of the LaRoche men’s soccer team, which Hagins was a member of until his senior year.
“It was so great. Leo was able to walk out with Conner and go out and warm up with them,” Zambori says. “It was really awesome to see them out there, side by side.”
Hagins and his family make sure to visit Leo, who hails from St. Martin’s, Ohio, when he’s at Children’s for treatment, sometimes playing cards with him or bringing him treats. Hagins also has helped Leo’s family, which includes older brother, Nolan, 10, attend professional sporting events in Pittsburgh.
Hagins says he considers the Zambori family his family, and Leo — who is doing well and will finish chemo treatment in June — a little brother. It’s a sentiment Zambori agrees with wholeheartedly.
“I can’t say enough about Cuddles for Kids and how Conner has taken Leo under his wing and been there for him throughout everything,” she says. “I couldn’t ask for a better role model for my kid.”