They were just 11 years old when they lost their best friend to cancer.
“You can’t really understand it, fully,” reflected Fort Mill High School junior Alex Bogert. “You know he’s gone, but you don’t get why and how.”
“You don’t really know the big picture of what’s going on and what everyone’s talking about,” agreed Walker Brown, also a junior at FMHS.
The two young men were part of “Noah’s Crew,” the best friends of Noah Mayberry, a Tega Cay youth who passed away from Ewing’s sarcoma, a type of bone cancer, in 2011.
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At 12 years old they, along with Donovan and Graeson Ippolito, the other part of Noah’s Crew, raised over $7,000 to fund the Noah Mayberry Butterfly Garden inside the Living Memorial Gardens at the entrance to Tega Cay. They held various fundraisers while Noah was fighting cancer and have volunteered at the Ronald McDonald House, a charity that houses the family of pediatric hospital patients.
On Aug. 23 of each year, the boys get together along with Noah’s dad Scott, to celebrate Noah’s birthday.
This year he would have turned 16.
The boys had talked for years of doing something to commemorate Noah’s 16th birthday – a time for coming of age, driving your first car and attending the high school prom.
As they discussed ideas, they remembered the many days they’d spent with Noah at Levine’s Children’s Hospital in Charlotte. And how much of the time Noah was confined to bed or too sick from the chemo to do much other than watch TV.
“We all spent so much time there, we know how boring it is,” Walker said.
Being 16-year-olds themselves, they thought of the 16-year-olds spending their days at Levine’s.
“We wanted to give (the teenaged patients) some laughter, joy and distraction,” Alex said.
They settled on a GoFundMe campaign to raise money to buy movies, video games and other entertainment for the teens at Levine’s. They set up the page and set a goal of raising $1,000.
They surpassed their goal in 24 hours.
They then raised the goal amount to $2,000. Within days, that goal was met too.
Now, the goal is $3,000 and 57 people have contributed $2,900 in eight days.
“Money just keeps coming. People are very generous,” Alex said.
“That’s a testament to Noah and how beloved he was,” Kim Brown, Walker’s mom, said.
When they set the first goal, the friends were trying to estimate how many DVDs and video games they could purchase with $1,000. Now, they’re figuring out how many game systems they can buy.
They say they hope the donations bring a little light into the sick teenager’s days.
“(Going through cancer) changes you mentally and physically,” Alex said. “The patients, the parents…it’s very hard.”
“It affected every one of us to our core,” remembered Kim Bogert, Alex’s mom. “It rocked all of us. It rocked all of Tega Cay.”
Scott Mayberry, Noah’s dad, said the family is grateful for how the community has rallied around Noah’s Crew to help keep Noah’s memory alive.
“Those are special young men,” Mayberry said.
“That’s probably been one of the biggest inspirations for me is just watching how those kids have progressed and how they’ve grown up to be such, just amazing young men. They’ve never for a minute stopped being Noah’s best buds.”
Although time has passed, all of the families have remained close. Since Noah loved to fish, Scott and the young men have gone down to the fishing hole on occasion. Another year on Noah’s birthday they planted trees in the Mayberry’s backyard. This year they will take all of the donations they buy from the money raised to Levine’s.
“They’re not my flesh and blood, but they’re about as close to it as you can get,” Mayberry said.
“They’re still always there…It’s not been an easy road the past few years, but none of them, including their parents, have ever not been there to support and be somebody to talk to or be there for us.”
Noah’s dad said he finds strength and inspiration from Noah’s Crew.
“Everyone says, ‘Oh, I can’t believe how strong you are,’…but it’s not that, it’s that I’ve got families like that and men like that behind me holding me up.”
Kelly Lessard: firstname.lastname@example.org, @KellyLessardFMT