Social worker ‘lifts people up’ during toughest times

Aleeza Granote (at left) and a participant at a card-making event for Card Care Connection at Family Partners Adult Day Services.Granote, a pediatric oncology social worker at Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center, founded Card Care Connection, a nonprofit organization that provides supportive cards and hopeful messages to people with cancer across the country.

BILL MOTCHAN

When she was 12 years old, Aleeza Granote was watching TV and saw a public service announcement for a volunteer opportunity at a nursing home’s Alzheimer’s unit. She called and offered to help.

“My friends thought I was crazy,” Granote said. “I was their youngest volunteer. I had never done it or been there, but it was near our house, so my parents dropped me off there. I didn’t think anything of it; I just enjoyed it.”

In middle school, Granote helped out with a special education class, where she became friends with children with disabilities. During her college experience at Washington University, Granote participated in AmeriCorps. In graduate school at Bradley University, she organized a campus-wide carnival at which the guests of honor were underserved kids.

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Years later, the adult Aleeza Granote continues her passion for helping others, especially those facing serious health issues, in her professional life and as a volunteer.

Granote is a pediatric oncology social worker at Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center. She’s also a PJ Library parent ambassador and a board member of Spread Ari’s Light, a foundation to fund dance therapy. In her spare time, Granote runs Card Care Connection, a nonprofit organization she founded that provides supportive cards and hopeful messages to people with cancer across the country.

“I like being able to give back to others and help people,” she said. “Through my work as a social worker, there are so many hardships that people face, and being able to lift people up during a really difficult time is motivating for me.”

Her efforts at work often go above and beyond the call of duty, which in 2018 earned Granote the Cardinal Glennon Mission Award for exemplifying the mission of the hospital: service to others.

“It was for a specific event,” Granote said. “A son was dying, and his dad was a truck driver in Texas so I worked super hard to get the dad from Texas to St. Louis to the hospital so he could say goodbye before his son died. He got here within minutes. I arranged the flight, got him to the airport and got a police escort. It was a miracle.”

Granote thrives on managing seemingly impossible projects. One time, a young patient was celebrating a milestone birthday, and Granote arranged a fireworks display in his hometown of Salem, a small city near Springfield, Mo.

“I connected with the fire chief in Salem and with key stakeholders,” she said. “I had to figure out funding, I had to find a fireworks company, and I had to figure out airspace. It was very involved and it was expensive, so being able to pull that off was amazing.”

Complicated logistics don’t faze Granote when she is focused on fulfilling a dream for a child with cancer. That involves coordinating with 65 charitable organizations and working with families facing devastating medical diagnoses.

“My real role is to provide support during a really awful time,” she said. “These are families that their whole life turns upside down, so I spend a lot of time supporting them and guiding them through that journey, connecting them to resources, and providing psychosocial support and helping with unexpected twists and turns, emotionally and financially.”

Granote often forms a close bond with the patients she meets, as she did with Arianna “Ari” Dougan, who lost her battle with cancer three years ago at age 11.

One of Arianna’s biggest fans was Blues forward Vladimir Tarasenko, who shemet in 2015 at the team’s Hockey Fights Cancer night. Like Tarasenko, Granote became friends with Ari and now volunteers with the foundation inspired by the 11-year-old. The foundation gets an important boost from Granote, according to Lori Zucker, Arianna’s mother and founder of Spread Ari’s Light.

“Aleeza was also Arianna’s social worker and helped and supported our family while Ari was in treatment,” Zucker said. “She has such a giant heart and would do whatever she can to support all the families at Cardinal Glennon. She has brought that same dedication to helping the Spread Ari’s Light foundation.

“Aleeza has been such an integral part in the foundation’s growth and many of the things that we have achieved and accomplished. She has volunteered her time to support our organization, but most importantly, since our organization helps children fighting cancer, Aleeza has been able to help us to connect with these families as part of her job as a liaison at Cardinal Glennon so that we can help them in the best possible way.”

Granote displays the same commitment to serving others in her work with PJ Library,a program providing free Jewish children’s books and family activities for Jewish families, said Jennifer Baer, who works at Jewish Federation of St. Louis as the PJ Library program coordinator here.

“Prior to COVID, Aleeza held casual meetups and small programs around town. She has continued to reach out, virtually, to families even now, extending a broad invitation to St. Louis PJ families, whoever they are and wherever they live,” Baer said. “Aleeza is always warm and compassionate, and we are so lucky to have her on our PJ Library team.”

Ten years ago, along with her other work and volunteering, Granote identified an unmet need and created the nonprofit Card Care Connection, in which people donate their time to create handmade cards, and volunteers personalize a handwritten message on each one.

“They are messages of cheer,” Granote said. “We also send periodic care packages to people, too, but primarily it’s cards. We get requests for cards coming in from all across the country.”

Granote believes her drive to help others was inspired by her parents, particularly her father, who emigrated from Israel and built a welding company. Now, Granote is passing on her spirit of giving and volunteerism to her children.

“My daughter is doing a kindergarten project with all the things she’s doing for the community, like donating, giving back and any form of tzedakah, which I think is important,” she said.

Granote also recognizes the important role she plays in supporting families during a stressful, emotionally draining time.

“I see the heartbreak that some people experience, and I truly believe I’m the tool to help during such a difficult time,” Granote said. “Families seem to really appreciate anything that we can do, like birthday celebrations with magical cakes. Sometimes, it’s their last birthdays, and parents want to hold on to those memories.”