When 5-year-old Kelsey Berger was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) in February, the community at Smith Clove Elementary School, where Kelsey's father, Christopher Berger, serves as principal, was devastated and wanted to help.
Kelsey, who is currently undergoing several months of inpatient chemotherapy, loves the movie "Trolls," and has surrounded herself with toys from the film to cheer herself up on difficult days in the hospital.
To inspire Kelsey to keep fighting, a group of teachers, students, administrators, parents and other school employees recently gathered to create a lip sync video of songs from Kelsey's favorite film — from the Justin Timberlake hit "Can't Stop the Feeling," to the inspiring anthem "Get Back Up Again."
Cathy Gardner, the school's librarian, and her husband Jake Gardner, who teaches computer technology and social studies at the school, organized the effort, getting permission from Dreamworks to use music from the movie and organizing the filming, which featured more than 300 participants dressed in troll wigs and costumes.
"When we heard the news of Kelsey's diagnosis...we all felt anxious and depressed," explained Cathy Gardner, adding that she and her husband felt that the music from the film would be the perfect way to cheer the child and her family up. "We wanted to channel that energy and turn it into something positive and make little Kelsey smile."
The vibrant, 12-minute video was a collaborative effort, and was filmed on Jake Gardner's iPhone in early March. A few days later, it was presented to the Berger family in the hospital.
"We wanted to — if only for a few brief moments — help Kelsey forget about her situation and hopefully put a smile on her face," said Jake Gardner. "We wanted to remind her that she is loved by so many beyond the walls of her hospital room."
In a statement issued to the school community, Principal Christopher Berger called the video "the single most amazing act of love" that he had experienced in his lifetime.
"If the objectives were to put a smile on Kelsey's face and to provide a wonderful distraction from her treatments, both were accomplished," Berger wrote in the statement.
Carolyn Carsley has two children, both of whom attend or have attended Smith Clove Elementary. Carsley says she and her kids dressed as trolls and participated in the video to send their support to the Berger family.
"This helped all of us — the staff, the community, the parents and especially the kids — send the best kind of message together," Carsley told TODAY Parents. "All that love, and all of the hope, prayer and positive energy that day brought about something bigger and higher. This was the most special, fun and uplifting way to send Kelsey and her entire family our love."
Filming the video for Kelsey was a way for the school community to process their own grief and offer encouragement to the Berger family, according to the New York school's assistant principal, Christine Ricker. The family continues to keep the school community updated on Kelsey's progress via her Kelsey's Krusaders Facebook page, and a YouCaring site set up to raise money for her treatment.
"This labor of love has had a positive effect on Kelsey and her family, and has provided them with a much-needed distraction from the anxiety and terror associated with her AML diagnosis and her extremely painful treatments," said Ricker. "For all of us, that was the sole purpose of making our video."