Big sister gives back to help others

Jenna Spencer is raising money to donate to two entities that helped her family when her little brother, Charlie, was hospitalized.

Charlie Spencer adores his big sister, Jenna, and the feeling is mutual. If you ask the 5-month-old if Jenna spoils him, he responds with a happy gurgle that sounds suspiciously like “Yeah!”

Little Charlie had a rough start, spending the first 50 days of his life at Sanford Children’s Boekelheide Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in Sioux Falls. His parents, James and Rachel Spencer, stayed at the nearby Ronald McDonald House during that time, driving back to Fairmont to pick up Jenna and sister Erin, 8, to spend the weekends together with Charlie.

The care that Charlie received in NICU and the family’s tenure at the Ronald McDonald House had such an impact on Jenna that she is now raising money to donate to the two sites by selling “slime.” For the uninformed, slime is a moldable, stretchy blob made from borax, liquid glue and water.

And kids love it.

“It’s just fun to play with,” Jenna said.

“It’s something all the kids her age make. She’s been making it forever,” Rachel said.

Jenna watches YouTube videos online to get ideas on different additives to put in the slime, things like shaving cream, lotion or glitter.

“It’s kind of like a science experiment. They add things to see what it will do,” Rachel said.

Jenna decided to do a slime fundraiser when she saw a story on social media about another girl holding a similar event to raise money for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) activities. She has vivid memories of care and support her brother and family received from NICU and the Ronald McDonald House and got the idea to do her own fundraiser.

Jenna said seeing her newborn brother in the hospital was “really hard.” Her voice breaks with emotion and tears instantly pool in her eyes.

Rachel picks up the narrative. Charlie was born in Fairmont on Dec. 28, five weeks early, with respiratory issues.

“They offered Rochester or Sioux Falls. We chose Sioux Falls because the weather was crappy, and Sioux Falls was just a straight shot down I-90,” Rachel said. “I can’t imagine going through that anywhere else now. It’s the most amazing place. Anything you need, any specialist, any test, any medication, it was all under one roof. We didn’t have to leave to see a neurologist because they were all there, in-house, 24/7.”

She estimated that the NICU could hold about 50 newborns, but the high quality of care never wavered no matter how many infants were there.

“Just sitting there, watching them, hustling and bustling, all these machines and all these doctors. The only reason they were doing all that is to help these little guys to go home. That’s their only concern, no matter how much it costs or how much work they have to do,” Rachel said.

Charlie was diagnosed with encephalomalacia, a softening of the brain tissue, but he is an active happy baby.

“He does have some brain damage, kind of like a concussion,” Rachel said. “The good news is you only need about 20 percent of your brain, and the doctors say his brain will probably re-wire itself.”

The NICU staff directed the Spencers to the nearby Ronald McDonald House in lieu of a hotel. The free lodging and design of the facility enabled the family to be alone in their rooms or gather in common areas like the kitchen, living room or game room, complete with video games, arcade games, a pool table, toys and puzzles.

James and Rachel remained in Sioux Falls the entire 50 days that Charlie was hospitalized. They returned to Fairmont every Thursday or Friday to pick up Jenna and Erin, taking them back to Sioux Falls to spend the weekend with Charlie.

“The girls split their time between grandmothers,” Rachel said. “They stayed with one grandma for the month of January, and then the other grandma for the month of February.”

Rachel returned to work at Lakeview Methodist Health Care Center after an extended leave, and word spreads quickly if Charlie comes to visit his mom at work. Co-workers are eager to see the smiling baby.

“He’s the little Lakeview mascot, that’s for sure,” Rachel said.

Her co-workers also have been supportive of Jenna’s fundraiser. Some bought slime. Some donated cash. Some bought slime and donated it back to the Ronald McDonald House so the kids there could play with it.

Jenna hopes to raise “a lot of money” to donate. Sanford will honor her at a check-passing ceremony when she makes her first donation on July 3 when Charlie returns for a follow-up appointment.

Jenna has been selling slime for only a month, and different ways to purchase or donate have been set up. Cost of a 1.5-ounce tub of slime is $5. To order through the etsy website, enter “slimeitforward” in the item or shop search box. To order directly from Jenna, email her at Direct donations can be made at any Profinium branch to the Slime Donations account.

Rachel is proud of her daughter’s charitable effort.

“She’s such a good kid. She has a huge heart,” she said.