Christopoulos, KCHS freshman, consumed with Memory of Angels

The art of giving and comforting, a Christopoulos family tradition not only at holiday time but year round, is what Eleni Christopoulos in putting into practice — some 14 years after she survived a stay in East Tennessee Children’s Hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

“From the time that Eleni was just a tiny girl, she helped with blanket projects [at ETCH]. … Eleni has been raised to have an appreciation for the care that was given to her,” said Cheryl Allmon, ETCH director of voluntary services and programs, about this 14-year-old from Farragut. “I think she has spent every minute of her young life showing her thanks and trying to do for others.”

Starting in December through mid-August, Christopoulos had helped comfort more than 50 grieving families in late 2015 and 2016, all of whom have lost a child in a NICU unit.

Asked by the hospital to buy photo albums in the fall of 2015, her idea hit for “Memory of Angels,” the program of building “memory boxes” with a photo album inside where photos, clothing and other items associated with a deceased infant can be memorialized.

“It hits so close to home with my ordeal in the NICU. … I wanted to provide a memory box for the parents who lost a child in the NICU,” Christopoulos, a freshman at Knoxville Catholic High School, said about the 10-inch long, 10-inch wide, 5.5-inch tall gray boxes with a heart and other white-painted designs. Items also have included “a baby blanket, and sometimes they’ll include an imprint of their feet,” she added.

During one period last summer, “More than 50 boxes to

date [were] delivered to East Tennessee Children’s Hospital and Vanderbilt’s Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital,” she said.

Memory of Angels helps facilitate “that comfort of wanting to hang on to every single memory you can,” Allmon said. “And this is that special place where you can keep those memories. … A young mother I ran into several months after her baby passed away, and she was talking of the pictures because there are pictures that are added to the box … the bereavement pictures and how she looks at those pictures every single day.”

Barely into her freshman year at KCHS, “I had 300-plus hours working on my project,” Christopoulos said. “… My fellow peers at school, about five, have helped me paint and stencil the boxes. Some of them have helped me paint and put them together.”

One parent “saw us building the boxes and he wanted to help paint them because he lost a child and he knew what it felt like,” Christopoulos said.

The Christopoulos family provides both lumber and paint for the boxes, the KCHS freshman said.

“The entire [Christopoulos] family, they have in many ways blessed this hospital … anything that the family could do to support Children’s Hospital, they’ve just been an incredible blessing,” Allmon said. “I think there’s truly a quality built into that family to reach out to others and make a difference. … The Christopoulos children have all been involved one way or another.”

“I have always been encouraged by my parents to help out in the hospital,” Christopoulos said. “My first birthday memories, instead of getting gifts I asked my friends to donate premature baby clothes so I could bring them to the NICU [at ETCH].”