A Marion County teen has won a scholarship by writing about a project her sister had started many years ago.

Kayla Gouzd, a 2006 graduate of Fairmont Senior High School, won one of 10 $1,000 one-year, nonrenewable scholarships from “Prom Wishes.” She earned the prize by writing about Cassie’s Toy Box, which her older sister, the late Cassie Gouzd, had started in 1992.

The toy box offered toys and restaurant certificates to pediatric patients at an area hospital. Cassie died of leukemia in 1994 when she was 9.

“She wanted to start a toy box for other patients in the hospital so they could get toys after treatment or something pretty terrible, so that would make them feel better,” Kayla said.

The family kept the toy box open after Cassie passed away.

“She started it and we kept it going,” said Cindy Gouzd, Cassie and Kayla’s mother. “It was a way of keeping her memory alive.”

Kayla, now 17, was 6 when her big sister died. Although she’d always helped with the project, once she entered high school, she became more involved.

She wrote about this experience for a chance at a scholarship from “Prom Wishes,” writing an essay on “Wish for a Better Tomorrow: How I Can Help Improve the Local Community.”

“I talked about how it was about cancer patients,” she said. “I know I was helping them through a difficult time in their lives ... seeing them smile when you give them a toy. I said I wished them a better tomorrow.”

It was only natural that she helped with the project.

“It was something Cassie wanted to do,” she said. “I felt it was an honor for me to get to do this to do something back for her, since she’d suffered so many years.”

She recently became the contact person for the project. That and her many school activities — such as volleyball and lacrosse — kept her pretty busy, Kayla said.

“It’s a way to meet people in high school, and it keeps you out of trouble, I guess. If you have stuff to do, you won’t be bored.”

She will attend Alderson-Broaddus in the fall to become a physician’s assistant. She also has PROMISE and presidential scholarships.

“I’ve always enjoyed medicine and wanted to do something in the medical profession,” she said. “I guess it’s because I would go to the hospital and visit Cassie.”

She learned she had won the “Prom Wishes” scholarship while she at the beach on senior weekend, she said.

“It felt good. Mom called and made me listen to the phone messages. I was really surprised. We’d done so many scholarships I figured I wouldn’t get any of them. But just getting one made a difference.”

Fairmont Senior’s junior class will receive $500 in prom supplies for the 2007 dance. Cassie’s Toy Box will also receive $500 in prom supplies.

“I’m not sure how we’re going to use it,” Cindy Gouzd said, adding that she’s working on several ideas.

“I’m pretty proud of her,” she said of Kayla.

“When Kayla was a freshman in high school, she became more involved in the toy box, although she’s always helped. She accepted a donation from the FSHS senior class of 2003.

“And I think it’s neat that Cassie would have graduated from Fairmont Senior, also. It’s like she’s contributing to where she would have gone to school.”

E-mail Debra Minor Wilson at dwilson@timeswv.com.

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