Wyatt Erber is awfully single-minded for an 8-year-old. When he learned about an extensive, summer-long scavenger hunt in his town, he went for it. And when he learned the scavenger hunt winner would pocket a cool $1,000, he immediately knew what he would do with the money.
“He said, ‘Let’s do this to help Cara!’” said Wyatt’s mom, Noelle Erber, 40, of Edwardsville, Ill. “I remember thinking, ‘Who am I to tell him that he might not win?’”
It turns out that Wyatt did win — and, without hesitation, made good on his promise. He gave all his winnings to Cara Kielty, a 2-year-old girl who lives on his street and was diagnosed with leukemia in May.
“I wanted to help her,” Wyatt told TODAY.com.
As soon as he learned he had triumphed in the scavenger hunt, he rushed to the phone and called Cara’s mom, Trisha Kielty, 40.
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“I won!” he announced.
“You did not win,” Kielty said, laughing.
“Yes, I did!” Wyatt insisted.
“No, you didn’t — you’re joking!” Kielty replied.
“Here! Talk to my Mom!”
When Kielty realized that Wyatt wasn’t kidding, she almost dropped the phone. Then she started saying that she couldn’t possibly accept money from an 8-year-old.
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“I said, ‘That is not happening!’” Kielty recalled. “My husband said the same thing. We’re adults — that would be ridiculous, right?”
But, after much back and forth with Wyatt’s parents, the Kieltys realized how much Wyatt had wanted to do this from the beginning. What affected them most of all was when they heard the question Wyatt had asked his parents about the money he had won: “How much chemotherapy will this buy Cara?”
“When I heard that, I thought, wow,” Kielty said. “I knew his mom must be so proud of him for being that compassionate and that giving, and I knew we just had to accept it.”Story: 18-year-old gives his $40,000 scholarship to other teens
Neighbors step up
Caring for Cara — and for Cara’s parents — has become a grassroots group effort in the family’s close-knit neighborhood ever since the youngster was diagnosed May 21. While Cara’s parents spent long days with their little girl at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, neighbors stepped forward in ways large and small: mowing the lawn, creating a Pedal the Cause cycling team in Cara’s honor, organizing other charity events for the family, setting up a dinner-cooking schedule that went on for weeks.
Wyatt has been observing all of this, and it’s left an impression on him. He’s also been affected by participating with his parents in Cookies for Kids’ Cancer charitable bake sale events.Story: Tour de ‘Force’: Star Wars fans unite for ailing infant
“He bakes dog cookies with his sister Anna, and they always sell out,” said Wyatt’s mom, who works as a tax law analyst. “We’ve exposed him to the whole idea of helping other people and understanding what cancer is — that, basically, it’s not what you want.”
Wyatt is close friends with Cara’s older brother, Connor, who also is 8. When Wyatt learned that his buddy’s little sister had cancer, he jumped into action.
“Right away he came home and emptied out his piggybank — you know, something an 8-year-old can do,” Erber said. “And then he heard about the scavenger hunt.”Story: Teased for his tresses, boy cuts them off (for charity)
Sponsored by First Clover Leaf Bank in Edwardsville, the hunt called for finding clues at local businesses around town all summer long. Wyatt never lost interest in the game and never forgot why he was doing it.
“I thought this would help them buy medicine for Cara,” Wyatt said.
‘It’s opened our eyes’
Cara was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common form that children get, and has been receiving weekly chemotherapy treatments. At times, she feels truly miserable. On other days, though, Cara is her usual silly, funny, sassy self. Doctors have told the Kieltys to be prepared for two and a half years of ongoing cancer treatments. They’ve also said Cara should have a 90 percent chance of being cured.
Trisha Kielty, who audits files from home for a living, and her husband, Jim Kielty, 42, who works for U.S. Bank, said the kindness of their neighbors has buoyed them on dark days and has made it possible for them to stay focused on what matters most: being there for all three of their kids, Cara, Connor and Craig, 4.Story: At 83, he gave his kidney to a stranger
“It’s really opened our eyes,” Trisha Kielty said. “My husband and I, we thought we were OK people, but now we see, wow, we could be so much better. I mean, my daughter is ill and that’s horrible ... but because this happened we’ve seen people’s true colors, and it’s made us much better people.
“The next time I see someone who needs a dinner schedule or some other kind of help, I’m going to be the first one to sign up.”
© 2013 NBCNews.com Reprints