Port Colborne, Ontario—
You’ve heard of teenagers taking the summer off? Lindsay Schoen does it in reverse. She takes it easy during the winter. It may be a bleak-looking, put-on-an-extra-sweater February day in Port Colborne, but it’s time to kick back. Lindsay’s got a ton of schoolwork to do, she’s in the chorus of the school musical, she plays the flute and the piano, and always tries to find time to talk on the phone to her best friend. And even with all that, her stress level is still hovering around zero.
She is the picture of relaxation. All Lindsay has to do is talk about what’s coming up in the summer. The doing part of it is still six months away.
But when August does roll around, then you might see the unassuming 15-year-old Mia Maid from the Welland Ward sweat a bit—even in Canada. Is the ring toss set up? Where are all the prizes? What’s the five-day weather forecast? Does Port Colborne’s mayor know what time he’s supposed to let people knock him off his perch in the dunking booth?
This is what she worries about once summer rolls around. This is what causes stress. This is the Lindsay Schoen Carnival.
“I get really stressed out a couple of days before the carnival when I’m running around telling everybody what to do. But I love it. Doing the carnival feels really good,” she says.
Who would have known that what began as a lemonade stand fund-raiser for Help a Child Smile would evolve into a carnival organized and run by Lindsay Schoen, with more than $10,000 raised during the past seven years?
Then again, who would have figured that Lindsay was going to contract cancer—non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma—right after her sixth birthday? Doctors thought it was growing pains, or maybe children’s arthritis. But cancer?
“At the beginning, it was really confusing. I had a lump in my neck, and my legs were really sore,” Lindsay recalls. “Once [the doctors] found out I had cancer, I didn’t even know what it was, so it didn’t really make a difference to me. I knew I had to stay in the hospital and everything, and I felt sick. But I didn’t know how serious it was.”
It was serious. Lindsay was hospitalized in Hamilton, 90 minutes away from Port Colborne, where she underwent chemotherapy for two years. Doctors pronounced her cancer in remission six months after it was first diagnosed, and things did get back to normal within about 18 months. She hasn’t had a problem since, and nine years later you can tell she’s doing great. Her constant smile, that brightens even the grayest Canadian winter day, proves that.
“The cancer made me look at life in a different way. I know what kids who have cancer are going through, and I decided I wanted to help them. Had I not had cancer, I don’t think I would want to help people as much as I do now,” she says. She talks about her cancer like it was a blessing. Without the trial, she’s convinced none of this would have taken place.
Her provide-a-service idea first began with a lemonade stand that became a fixture near her Fielden Avenue home. Lindsay had already decided she would donate the money from her little business to Help a Child Smile, a nonprofit charitable organization that provides trips and gifts for sick Canadian children.
“The year after I had my stand, I went to [Help a Child Smile’s] big fund-raiser and I gave them $50 that I had earned,” Lindsay says. “I thought it was really cool. I didn’t even know how much money I had because I just kept all the money I made in a little box. Then I counted it out and gave it to them. I thought it was pretty neat.” So did the people at Help a Child Smile.
During Lindsay’s sickness, Help a Child Smile had selected Lindsay’s family for an all-expenses-paid trip to Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Lindsay had directly benefitted from people’s generosity, and now she wanted other cancer patients to experience the same thing she had.
That was when the grade-school businesswoman hatched the carnival idea. It was time to diversify, time to turn her lemonade stand into something a little bigger. Lindsay set a goal to make $100 at the first carnival, replete with a fish pond, a ring toss, and crafts table. She advertised the carnival by putting up posters on telephone poles around Port Colborne, and she sold tickets for 25 cents each. She even got people to donate some of the prizes, as well as food.
“I just didn’t know if anyone would come,” Lindsay says.
She couldn’t have been more wrong. By the end of that first carnival, the money she had made wouldn’t fit in her trusty box. “We made over $750,” Lindsay says.
Each year since, the carnival has been improved and upgraded. No longer is it held in the Schoens’ backyard. Instead, the front lawn of a water treatment plant hosts the pony rides, clowns, pie sale, and dunk tank—where Port Colborne’s mayor gladly agrees to let people try to knock him in the water. But since Lindsay knows the mayor personally, it wasn’t difficult convincing the politician he needed to participate. After all, he’d watched her struggle with the cancer she eventually beat.
“I didn’t mind getting knocked in the water,” says Mayor Neal Schoen, Lindsay’s dad. His Honor got wet all over again at Lindsay Schoen’s Seventh Annual Carnival, held last August. People pay for 25-cent tickets with a five-dollar bill, or they buy a lemon meringue pie for $100. After all these years, the people of Port Colborne seem to have the same vision Lindsay does, even if it does cause her to stress a bit.
“I just love doing the carnival. You can feel the Spirit when you do it,” Lindsay says. “And when I give the money to Help a Child Smile, I feel the Spirit so strong. It’s really cool.”
Funny how that works. Lindsay is doing her best to help some children smile, and it seems she’s the one doing all the smiling.