What began as a thought of packing some shoeboxes with holiday gifts for seniors has since blossomed into an effort by a Hugo teen to touch the lives of cancer treatment patients as well. 

Hugo resident Josiah Cullen, 16, has already blessed seniors at Encore Assisted Living and Memory Care with holiday care packages. Going into the new year, he is planning more care packages for cancer treatment patients in Wyoming. 

Josiah has been homeschooled by his parents Tahni and Joe Cullen since January 2020. Josiah has autism, a neurological and developmental disorder that affects how a person communicates, learns and interacts with others. He also has motor skill challenges and is non-speaking. 

“The pandemic has been particularly hard on this population, not only because of the way they learn in person and with a lot of hands-on oversight and care, but also because of the difficulty for keeping masks on or keeping up instructed handwashing, etc.,” Tahni explained. “Caregivers have been very hard to find and to keep over this time, so there is a lot on the families to become 24/7 caregivers, teachers and therapists as well as parents.” 

The highly flexible, one-one-one learning and skill training along with an individualized pace has really benefited Josiah. Josiah enjoys reading, writing, poetry and painting, despite his challenges with fine motor skills. 

“I knew we needed to continue to work on these skills but oftentimes, even at therapy, the way they work on them isn’t motivating to him because it is things like sorting colors but for no grand outcome,” Tahni said. “I noticed right away that when we turn more to real-life purposeful tasks, he has a willingness to attend and practice more.” 

For the past three summers, the Cullen family has attended a one-week camp for people with special needs in Illinois. The camp just started a program for disabled young adults centered on purposeful work. The participants create and package items to sell. In seeing how that helped them, Tahni asked Josiah if he would want to do a “generosity project” to not only work on his skills, but employ his gifts to bless others. She gave him some ideas, and Josiah decided he wanted to do something for seniors. 

They began working on the packs and before they knew it, friends, family and community members wanted to get involved, too. Each pack contained a variety of items including: gripper socks, coloring and word find books, pens and pencils, crayons, sticky notes, backscratchers, stress balls, candy, holiday glasses, magnets with Josiah’s artwork and Christmas cards with a poem written by Josiah. 

Tahni continues to be surprised by this project. “So many things about our daily journey require a large amount of energy, patience and persistence, and you don’t often see immediate results. There has been such a joy, lift and momentum to this project that it has felt like fun rather than effort,” she said. “To see how it can bring joy and honor to those investing in it, to those of us putting it together, and to the recipients, thrills me to no end.” 

After assembling the packs, Josiah wrote, “Lifting up prizes to others lifts up my life, too.” Josiah wanted to continue to have tasks to look forward to, and Tahni wanted the project to continue because she has seen the tremendous benefit for Josiah in the form of therapy, education and social compassion. 

Josiah has had three grandparents touched by cancer in the past, so Tahni suggested making more care packages for people visiting the M Health Fairview Cancer Center in Wyoming. The packs will include items of comfort including: fleece throws, water bottles, hand sanitizer, lip balm, essential oils, activity books, journals, pens and pencils, backscratchers and Josiah’s inspirational quotes and poetry. 

The Cullens have set up a GoFundMe to raise money for the care packages. A donation of $25  sponsors one pack. If the packs continue to be funded, Tahni says they would love to continue the project to keep making an impact on the community and give Josiah a sense of purpose. 

“I love Josiah’s kind heart, and I’m so proud of him, especially when I see how far he has come. Even three months ago we couldn’t conceive that he would be able to do such things as he is doing today,” Tahni said. 

Joe added, “I’m so proud of Josiah. He’s really grown so much in the past year and is showing a lot of maturity, and that’s very evident with his hard work for this project. It’s been really great to see how much he cares about his community and using his time and talents to help our neighbors.” 


Managing Editor Shannon Granholm can be reached at 651-407-1227 or citizennews@presspubs.com.

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