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Student's cranes soar above sadness


Sixth-grader's origami project spreads hope to cancer patients

by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Compass Oncology lead Medical Assistant Cheryl Kesterson checks out a crane made by Niasha Oden, center, during her delivery of origami cranes to the center. Oden has been making the cranes for years to give to sick patients all around the suburbs. Niasha Oden’s uplifting messages to area cancer patients are simple, sweet and to the point: “You’re loved.” “Let Hope Bloom and Grow.” “Fall Into Hope.” “Brighter Days are Coming Soon.”

The 11-year-old’s delivery method — origami (folded paper) birds, specifically cranes — is simply sublime.

Through her “Cranes of Hope” mission, Niasha, an Arts and Communication Magnet Academy sixth-grader, spreads hope, compassion and love for those suffering from illness by crafting and distributing more than 8,100 message-bearing paper cranes to area hospitals and oncology centers. Niasha also teaches others the Japanese craft of folded paper birds, while gathering “ambassadors” to the cause through her “Cranes of Hope” Facebook page.

The Cedar Hills resident’s interest in origami cranes started when she was a fourth-grader in Hillary Muldovan’s class at Ridgewood Elementary School. The class started making origami cranes to benefit students suffering in the wake of the deadly 2010 tsunami in Japan.

“My teacher taught my entire class,” she says. “After the (2010) tsunami in Japan, every one we donated equaled a piece of clothing for a child in Japan. After it was over, we kept making them because it was really fun to make them.”

Learning a particular Japanese legend started the spunky, articulate blonde’s transformation of an idle, school-based hobby into an undeniable sense of purpose.

“I found out about a tradition in Japan where if you collect 1,000 cranes, you get to make a wish — and the wish will be granted,” she says.

When Niasha’s mom, Trisha — herself a cancer survivor — shared that her grandmother died of cancer before she collected her 1,000 cranes, Niasha knew what she had to do.

“I thought that wasn’t OK,” Niasha says. “Everyone should have hope they will be healed.”

Beyond the borders

When a family friend was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer, Niasha set about making about 50 cranes for her. She estimates she can fold a small origami crane in two minutes, or a medium-sized bird in about three.

“She got her 1,000, but (Niasha) wanted to keep going,” Trisha Oden says. “I was thinking of different ways to get cranes to people without anyone else knowing.”

Contacting hospitals and oncology clinics in the area, mother and daughter developed a plan to make and deliver baskets of colorful birds. With the motto “From My Heart to Yours,” and bearing messages such as “Angels Watching,” “Look to the Sky,” and “Fall into Hope,” they’ve delivered Cranes of Hope to Oregon Health and Science University Hospital’s Cancer Center, Compass Oncology’s Beaverton office near Providence St. Vincent Medical Center and the Hematology and Oncology Department at Tuality Community Hospital in Hillsboro, among other health care centers.

Niasha’s Cranes of Hope goodwill missions — and her Facebook page, with 465 “likes” and counting — have gained a following well beyond the Portland area. “Ambassadors” and supporters have given Niasha the thumbs up from other states as well as countries as far away as Australia and Belgium.

“We now have ambassadors, two ladies in Montana,” Niasha says. “When the first lady found out about me, she wanted to help in any way she could. She decided to make her own cranes and told her aunts about me.”

Niasha’s mom says the Montana ladies offered generous support to the healing-crane mission. They comply with Niasha’s standard of having two hearts drawn on every crane.

“They said, ‘How can we help you? What are your demands for us?’ ” Trisha says of the social media correspondence. “They sent messages. Every one of their cranes have two hearts.”by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Niasha Oden holds one of the many thousand origami cranes that she's made over the years. The cranes have inspirational sayings on them.

Lessons well learned

As an ACMA sixth-grader, Niasha focuses on singing, theater and poetry. She says school administrators are considering allowing her to have a club so students can learn how to make origami cranes and help her fill more baskets.

Muldovan, Niasha’s former fourth-grade teacher who helped nurture the girl’s interest in the Japanese art of origami, says she’s thrilled to see where her student has taken the hobby.

“I have seen her transform from a shy, quiet girl to a sixth-grader who is willing to speak in front of adults or children to spread her news,” she says.

Justin Gress, practice manager of Compass Oncology at 9555 S.W. Barnes Road, says Niasha’s crane deliveries have gone over well with the facility’s patients.

“I think it’s great,” he says. “Anything we can supply for our patients that brings a little hope. The notes on the cranes create a great service out there for our patients, especially coming from a (pre-teen) girl with a lot of our patient population being elderly. It reminds them of their own children.

“When they grab one,” he adds, “it’s a sign of hope and knowing Niasha’s out there giving her time and making those cranes. It’s a little sign of hope for them.”

Trisha Oden, who helps decorate the cranes as well as with logistics, says it warms her heart to play a part in her daughter’s mission.

“I’m her lackey,” she says with a chuckle. “It’s our responsibility as human beings to lend support to someone doing something positive. If you want the world to be a better place, you need to include people who are going to be leading it tomorrow.”by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Niasha Oden has been making cranes for years to give to sick patients being treated for cancer in area medical centers.

Spreading some joy

An independent Girl Scout, Niasha’s goal is to establish her efforts as an official nonprofit organization while accruing the community service hours required for her ACMA graduation.

In the meantime, she’ll keep the cranes flying to where they’re needed most.

“I think my favorite part is probably knowing in my heart I’m making people feel good — letting them have hope they may be healed,” she says. “And just knowing that I’m putting a smile on someone’s face.

“Even if they can smile for just half a second, that’s good enough,” she adds. “That makes me happy.”

Visit Niasha Oden’s “Cranes of Hope” Facebook page at facebook.com/pages/Cranes-of-Hope/247774075297381.