Despite battling the chronic illness gastroparesis, 19-year-old Alli Baker is helping spread joy to other children in the form of butterflies.
The 2011 Douglas High School graduate founded the charity Butterflies for Courageous Kids where she makes custom butterflies for children by hand.
"I chose butterflies because they symbolize hope and freedom," Baker said. "I really enjoy that I can make them smile through their sickness. I encourage them to never, ever give up."
Gastroparesis is a disorder that slows or stops the movement of food from the stomach to the small intestine. Baker uses medication to manage the symptoms.
The Truckee Meadows Community College student lives in Reno, and is studying nursing.
"Most kids my age are having a large social life, but I'd rather be giving back to people in my free time," Baker said.
She modeled her charity after the Jessie Rees Foundation that gives joy jars filled with toys to children with cancer.
"I started it five days after a girl (Rees) I followed on Facebook lost her battle to brain cancer," Baker said. "She made joy jars during her fight with cancer, and I saw how one person could have an impact on another person."
The first butterfly Baker made in April 2012 was a memorial for Rees which pictured her dog, swimming items and a joy jar.
The butterflies are made out of scrapbooking paper or card stock, and personalized for each recipient with his or her favorite color, hobbies or pets.
"Each butterfly is unique to the kids," Baker said. "Most of the time, they say thank you, but it's really nice to see their smile when they send me a picture of them holding their butterflies. It's a feeling like no other."
To date, Baker has given away 1,000 butterflies.
"I won't stop until every kid gets one. I have a long way to go," Baker said. "I've sent them to 550 cities and eight countries, so I've sent them all over the world."
Baker said she gets in contact with the children receiving her butterflies through the Jesse Rees Foundation and through the Butterflies for Courageous Kids Facebook page.
"I've been trying to reach more kids locally," Baker said. "The little hugs and smiles is the greatest feeling ever."
Baker also makes butterflies for abused children or those with other medical issues.
She is now working on Sandy Hook memorial butterflies for the children in Connecticut.
For more information, visit the Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/#!/ButterfliesForCourageousKids.