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Student’s holiday ornament drive brightens lives of thousands in hospitals and assisted living centers

by Public Relations and Marketing | Published Dec 12, 2019

On Christmas Eve 2007, Grayslake resident Elizabeth (Lyzzi) Elliott stopped by the hospital to visit her friend’s 6-year-old daughter who was battling leukemia. Elliott reached into her purse, pulled out a Barbie ornament she received for her Christmas tree at home, and handed it to the girl to keep. For Elliott, seeing the joy on the girl’s face was “life-changing.”

“No longer did I see her bald head, her bandages or the IVs going into her arm,” recalled Elliott, a child psychology major at the College of Lake County. “All I saw was the beautiful smile of a little girl fighting for her life, rather than being at home setting out cookies for Santa. I realized my simple ornament could change her Christmas Eve around by bringing her some holiday spirit.”

Not only did the girl survive, the following year she and Elliott teamed up to purchase ornaments and hand them out in the same hospital. Elliott established HOPE Ornaments, an organization designed to keep up the tradition. And the effort has snowballedPhoto of Lyzzi Elliott and two students packing Christmas or holiday tree ornaments ever since. This year, Elliott and her network of eight volunteers, with help from employees of Chicago-based Haworth, Inc., aspire to distribute 8,000 ornaments to children and adults in 22 area hospitals and assisted living centers.

Photo (from left): CLC students JuanCarlos Urbina and Colleen Thake help Lyzzi Elliott prepare holiday ornaments for delivery to hospitals and assisted living centers. Elliott founded the nonprofit HOPE Ornaments.

Elliott, who experiences periodic hearing loss, fainting spells and other conditions related to high blood pressure, has spent a few holidays in the hospital. She said she can relate to those confined to a room or bed during a time that celebrates togetherness. “To witness and hear the stories of how my ornaments kept someone fighting for another day or bringing them hope and joy is something money can’t buy,” she said. “These patients say we have changed their lives, but they are a large part of why I don’t give up. They taught me the meaning of love and compassion.”  

At CLC, the Office for Students with Disabilities has served as a drop-off location for HOPE Ornaments. They help Elliott and other students succeed by providing a range of services, from note takers to software that “reads” a textbook aloud. Tom Crowe, director of the OSD office, said he has been impressed by Elliott’s drive to help others.

 “Lyzzi may face some struggles, but she doesn't let them define her,” he said. “She is a compassionate, determined woman and proof helping others helps you get through your own struggles.”

As Elliott sees it, her effort is an example of compassion, one of CLC’s core values. “We all know numerous people suffer the loneliness of being hospitalized,” she said. “But HOPE Ornaments takes it a step further to realize how much harder it must be for another person to experience such isolation during one of the most emotional times of the year. We strive to ease pain by the action of giving and receiving. By experiencing this wonderful exchange, we not only show our feeling for each patient, but we also bring them hope and love.”

Other student groups volunteer with HOPE Ornaments, including the college’s Social Action Club. “Being involved with HOPE Ornaments and other club activities helps me grow as a person because it allows me to gain a new perspective on life,” said Riley Pemstein, current club president and finance major from Lake Zurich. “Many people in our community don’t have the same access to resources as I do. I’m grateful, and I want to help other people in need.”

HOPE Ornaments is collecting newly purchased, unwrapped ornaments through Dec. 20. Deliver them to the OSD office in Room B171 on CLC’s Grayslake Campus. The public can send ornaments or donations to: HOPE Ornaments, 562 2nd St., Grayslake, Ill., 60030. To donate online, visit

For more information on CLC’s Office for Students with Disabilities, visit


About College of Lake County:

College of Lake County is an innovative community college in Lake County, Ill. that transforms lives with its variety of accessible, quality education options. Offered at three campuses in Grayslake, Vernon Hills and Waukegan or online, College of Lake County provides affordable options in a state-of-the-art setting close to home. A large student network, with small class sizes,provides advantages to our students on a career-related program or a path toward a transfer degree. We’re proud to serve the diverse needs of our community and student body. Connect to your future today at College of Lake County.