Carolers jam the small 400 block of Chestnut Street in West Reading on Saturday night, just before the start of their serenade for Delaney “Laney” Brown. Laney is battling a rare form of leukemia.
Carols of caring for Laney
Thousands gathered outside Delaney Brown’s home Saturday evening, the notes of “Silent Night” rising above the rooftops of West Reading for the little girl whose cancer battle has touched the community and beyond.
The 8-year-old, nicknamed Laney, was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia in May.
Carolers came out in droves to fulfill a wish on Laney’s bucket list: for the community to sing Christmas carols to her outside her home.
Organizers during the event said an estimated 5,000 to 7,000 people packed into the narrow 400 block of Chestnut Street, a crowd that well exceeded West Reading’s population of 4,000. Later, they said as many as 10,000 showed up.
The caroling, originally set to start at 7 p.m., began a half-hour early. Carolers rotated through holiday favorites, including “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer,” “Jingle Bells” and “Joy to the World.”
The Browns’ front door was cracked open during some of the songs, which organizers said was the best way for Laney to hear the singing without catching a draft.
A photo of Laney with both thumbs up was posted on the family’s Team Laney Facebook page about an hour after the caroling began. The caption read “I can hear you now!!! Love you!”
Carolers finished singing at about 8 p.m. with a rendition of “Happy Birthday.” Laney turned 8 on Friday.
Girls from Laney’s dance group at Dance Fusion Studios in West Lawn performed in front of the Browns’ home before the caroling began.
Kaylee Jester, 8, of Mohnton is a member of the dance troupe and a friend of Laney’s. She said dance practices haven’t been the same without Laney around.
“I was sad because she has cancer. I want to make her feel better,” Kaylee said as she stood outside Laney’s home. “I love her and miss her.”
Laney underwent five rounds of radiation therapy and in September received a stem cell transplant. Earlier this week, Laney’s parents, Jennifer and Jeremiah Brown, delivered devastating news on the Team Laney Facebook page: Doctors at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital said their daughter has just days or weeks to live.
The response was enormous; Laney’s Facebook page grew from 7,500 likes on Tuesday to more than 50,000 by Saturday night.
Two other items on Laney’s bucket list were also described on the page. One was to meet pop superstar and Wyomissing native Taylor Swift.
Swift contacted Laney by video chat Friday after the Make-A Wish Foundation reached out to the musician’s publicist.
Laney also hoped to go on a Disney cruise, but her delicate condition wouldn’t allow for a vacation.
Her third wish, the caroling, was granted with the help of Relay For Life of Western Berks and other community organizations.
Reading Health System worked to coordinate parking for the mass gathering, opening up the hospital parking lot on Seventh and Spruce streets for carolers.
More than 150 volunteers signed up to help at the event, some traveling from as far as Wilkes-Barre, said American Cancer Society spokesman Erik McGaughey.
Laney’s dance team decorated the outside of the Browns’ home with white and blue Christmas lights on Wednesday, the day before she came home from the hospital. The house was the most-brightly lit on the block Saturday night. Kim Saadi, sponsorship chairwoman for Relay For Life of Western Berks, was among the main coordinators, and she also attends the same church as Laney’s family.
‘Short time that we’re here’
“Whenever someone in the community is ill or hurt, everyone wants to do something to help,” Saadi said. “What an honor to do this for Laney and her family.”
Parents, many of whom brought children close to Laney’s age, expressed sorrow for the Browns.
John Gilbert, 46, Wyomissing, sang carols for Laney with his 12-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter.
“I explained to her, the little girl’s sick and she might not make it to Christmas,” he said, nodding toward his daughter, Sarah. “I wanted my kids to come to this to let them know that nothing is forever, even little girls and little boys. It’s only a short time that we’re here.”
Contact Laura Newberry: 610-371-5081 or firstname.lastname@example.org.