She is a writer. She is a cockroach collector drawn to Madagascar Hissers, Peruvian Cave Cockroaches, and Tigger Hisser Cockroaches for their resilience. She is a warrior battling chronic illness. But most remarkably, at just 15, Molly Ondich from the Creative Writing Conservatory at California School of the Arts-San Gabriel Valley is the founder of Molly’s Mail, a nonprofit organization that has given over 200 children around the globe comfort and support through customized care packages to let them know they are not alone in their fight against chronic illnesses.
Diagnosed with a rare genetic disease called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, a connective tissue disorder that affects the musculoskeletal system and internal organs, Ondich understands better than anyone what it means to have life give you lemons. Making lemonade of her situation, however, Ondich started Molly’s Mail, a nonprofit organization that sends care packages to children around the world when she was 12. Each package contains specialized items for each child and is made complete by a handmade card with a heartfelt message from Ondich herself, offering a personal touch through which Ondich is able to connect with her recipients.
“Growing up with a chronic illness can be isolating, and I often felt like no one understood what I was going through. I wanted other people with illnesses and disabilities to know that there was someone who had shared experiences and was capable of offering support,” Molly said. “I was inspired to start Molly’s Mail when I experienced first hand how impactful it was to be in contact with someone who also has a chronic illness. When I first met someone with EDS, it was a huge relief. It made me feel less alone, and made my struggles seem more conquerable. I wanted to be able to be that person for others with chronic illnesses.”
Since its creation in 2016, Molly’s Mail has sent over 280 care packages to children from Australia to Texas to Michigan. Her Instagram, @mollys_mail, documents the behind the scenes of it all, from photos of Molly at the post office mailing out packages, card designs in progress, and radiant smiles from children opening their packages. Once in a while, Molly also has the chance to meet the recipients of her care packages, getting the chance to connect with her friends in person.
However, Molly is not stopping there. Inspired by Claire Wineland, a late friend and avid inspirational speaker, nonprofit founder, and cystic fibrosis advocate who she met through Molly’s Mail, Molly continues to improve upon her organization and look for ways to reach an even wider audience.
Through a segment on ABC 7, word of mouth, and social media, Molly seeks to lend a hand to people of all types of conditions in the hopes that no one would have to fight their illness alone. In doing so, Molly hopes to help chronic illness fighters find a community where they can support and be supported, as well as inspire others to be more empathetic and aware, especially since the visibility of a struggle does not define its validity.
“Despite looking perfectly normal, we go through big struggles on a daily basis. I think it’s hard to for people who don’t struggle with illnesses to realize that not every condition is visible. In fact, over 125 million Americans suffer from a chronic illness, and about half of those people’s conditions are not immediately apparent. If you meet someone who is struggling, believe them,” Ondich said. “If you have a chronically ill friend, often the best thing you can do for them is to simply be there. Even if they’re too sick to go out with you, don’t stop inviting them. Never underestimate the importance of being willing to listen.”
Ondich said she hopes people can hear her story and learn that it’s possible to transform a negative circumstance into something meaningful that helps others.
“Through my years of running Molly’s Mail, I’ve learned helping others is the best way to help yourself,” Ondich said. “[EDS] taught me to focus on the positives, however small they may be. I try my best to live everyday with purpose, because not everyone with EDS is given a tomorrow. EDS has helped me learn that you have to be the change you want to see in the world.”
As people that are always preparing for the future, it is often hard for us to realize how much potential lies in our todays. Often times, we are so caught up in plans — what we are going to do, what we want to do, what we hope will happen — that we forget that there is so much we can do right now.
Ondich’s story reminds us that change is never quite as distant as it sounds — we just have to reach out.