A Small School With a BIG Heart

AT THE END OF A WINDING DRIVEWAY set on a scenic hill in Atlantic Highlands, NJ you’ll find Mountain Hill School which is owned and operated by the beautiful Kaiser family. When I first met Lauren Kaiser and saw Mountain Hill I knew in an instant that it would be the best place for Natalie to transition from a year of aggressive cancer treatment to introducing her back into the Mountain Hill-35world of being a kid and going to school. Complete with pushy goats and a very hungry pony, Mountain Hill offers so much more then a peaceful view, it genuinely provides kids with a home away from home. From the Kaiser’s, to the fabulous teachers and office staff that they employ, it’s crystal clear that these wonderful people love what they do and sincerely adore the children that they teach and care for.

Lauren and Andy Kaiser have three beautiful children, Jack (15), Jaime (13), and Ryan who is forever 6. Ryan Andrew Kaiser, a boy who cherished his family beyond measure (along with wolves and pirates of course), was born on December 16, 1996 and was almost immediately diagnosed with Complex Congenital Heart Disease (CHD)…baby Ryan was only hours into his life and yet already he was in a fight to hold on to it. For the next two years Lauren and Andy rode the unpredictable waves of emotions mixed with the medical world as their beautiful, brave boy endured more surgeries and procedures then most adults will experience in a lifetime…but even with all of the odds stacked against him, Ryan pushed through and stunned his doctors by making it past every storm until he finally came through to the sunny beaches of his seemingly good health. Sure Ryan now had a daily regimen of medications, but aside from that he was finally beginning to live his life as a healthy carefree child.

For the next four years Ryan did just that, he lived! He welcomed into the world a baby brother and a couple of years later a sister as well…he began impressing his teachers with his advance math skills (not to mention his uncanny ability to recite the alphabet backwards), he learned anything and everything with passion and drive, and played with all of his 6-year-old energetic might all the while maintaining good manners and grace. On January 25, 2003 Lauren and Andy’s life came to a screeching halt as Ryan died suddenly and unexpectedly on this day. The doctors concluded that he may have had an aneurysm, or that the electric impulse in his heart simply stopped due to the complexion of his heart problem…but whatever the exact cause of Ryan’s death, it doesn’t change the fact that this beautiful boy, thought to be in the clear of any medical issues, is now gone years and years before his time.

RYAN ANDREW KAISER

Shortly after his death, the Ryan Andrew Kaiser Memorial Foundation was born. It wasn’t Ryan’s tragic death that showed the Kaiser’s the power of giving back, they’ve known this always, however, they do hold and understand more than most the gravitas behind the saying of never taking anything or anyone for granted. With Ryan’s foundation the Kaiser’s have raised funds allowing them to assist other local families with critically ill children, they’ve contributed towards the research of Congenital Heart Disease (the #1 birth defect in children), they’ve built playgrounds (six and counting) to give kids a safe place to unwind, and most recently they’ve now donated $15,000 in Ryan’s name to help in the fight against childhood cancer! In fact, this is how I first met the Kaiser’s.

I was a little more then half way into my very first Will You Send Us a Dollar fundraiser (around July 2013) when my husband passed along a $5000 check from the Ryan Andrew Kaiser Memorial Foundation (RAKMF). He had been doing some work in the Kaiser’s home when he and Andy began talking about Natalie and Ryan. From the moment Andy heard about our fundraiser and the goal we had set, he spoke to Lauren and the two of them wanted to help. At the time I was thinking that reaching my goal of $50,000 by Natalie’s (then) 4th birthday on September 28th was never going to happen…but then I received this amazing donation from (RAKMF). For the first time I was actually ahead of my weekly goal instead of being 2-3 weeks behind. In fact from that moment on it seemed as though donations began to pick-up and not only was I confident that we’d get to that $50,000, but I knew that we were going to blow right past it and we did. With that first fundraiser we ended up raising $110,000 for The Truth 365 where EVERY single penny raised helped to fulfill SIX research grants for AML (an aggressive form of leukemia). I’ll never forget, and I will always appreciate that first check from RAKMF as I truly believe it’s what propelled us towards hitting that goal!

This photo was taken in April of 2014 after the HUGE success of Mountain Hill's first Hike the Hill to Help fundraiser which helped us towards our goal of raising $150,000 for childhood cancer research via The Truth 365. Can you tell Natalie was a little bit excited?!

This photo was taken in April of 2014 after the HUGE success of Mountain Hill’s first Hike the Hill to Help fundraiser which helped us towards our goal of raising $150,000 for childhood cancer research via The Truth 365. Can you tell Natalie was a little bit excited?!

Shortly after the success of that fundraiser Lauren contacted me saying that she and Andy wanted to do more to help with our cause…enter Hike the Hill to Help. In spring of 2014 the Kaisers decided to hold a fundraiser at their amazing school (Natalie hadn’t been attending just yet) where every Mountain Hill child would be asked to “hike” up and down the school hill in an effort to raise funds and awareness for our second Will You Send Us a Dollar campaign (this time our goal was to raise $150,000 by Natalie’s 5th b-day for The Truth 365). With sponsorship forms having been sent home with all of the kiddos, and the kids being informed as to why these children fighting cancer needed their help, they eagerly brought in donations and hiked that hill with pride and excitement in order to help “sick kids get the medicine that they need.” You see, AMAZING, kind families are just part of the territory at Mountain Hill school…and thanks to their generosity, that first Hike the Hill to Help fundraiser yielded over $15,000 towards our goal ($10K was raised by the MH families and the other $5K was once again from the RAKMF)! $15,000!!! So like the previous year, RAKMF had jump-started us towards our goal as did my now fellow Mountain Hill families. Oh, and you might have guessed it but once again we not only reached our goal last year, but we surpassed it by raising $164,000 for The Truth 365 (where we solely fulfilled three grants for Ewing Sarcoma research)!

So here we are at present day, and I’m happy to announce that for the second year in a row, our family of parents and children at the Mountain Hill School have Hiked the Hill once again to help us towards our new goal of raising $200,000 for The Truth 365 by Natalie’s 6th birthday in September. If you can believe it, these AMAZING families have once again raised just over $15,000 for our cause ($10,285.65 from the MH families, and for the third year in a row a $5000 donation via RAKMF)!! I know I’m a broken record with this sometimes, but I mean it from the bottom of my heart…I will forever be grateful to not only the Kaiser family and RAKMF, but also to the MANY Mountain Hill families who have embraced this fundraiser and our family. Just imagine if every school out there mirrored this simple, yet beautiful fundraiser…we’d be fulfilling childhood cancer research grants left and right!

THANK YOU once again Mountain Hill School…small gestures done by good-hearted people can lead to an unstoppable force of selflessness.  

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Lauren Kaiser (far right) with five of her amazing staff members.

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We let Natalie’s big sister Hannah play hooky from school so that she could join us for a day of Hiking the Hill. Some things need to be taught outside of the classroom!

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The kids wanted to keep track of how many times they could go up and down that big hill!

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Lauren Kaiser high-fiving one of the kids at the bottom of the hill.

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Andy Kaiser high-fiving one of the kids after his first hike down the hill.

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READY. SET. GO!!

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The kids were changing “HIKE THE HILL, HIKE THE HILL, HIKE THE HILL!”

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A little rest after a BIG hike!

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Some of the kiddos needed their teachers help to get back up that hill.

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