TAMPA, Fla. — Parker Lentini was 10 years old when he was diagnosed with systemic onset juvenile arthritis.
The Tampa boy was scared and lonely. Medicines made him gain weight. Kids teased him.
He told them he wasn’t fat. He was puffy.
Ten years later, Parker has turned “puffy” into a comforting word — and a stuffed animal — for kids all over the Tampa Bay area.
“I took my pain and built something out of it,” he says. “Instead of sitting down, I decided to pick myself up and do something.”
Parker’s Purple Playas Foundation is a nonprofit that provides coping kits to children battling chronic illness.
A “Purple Puff” critter, nicknamed Puffy, is the star attraction. The kit also includes a superhero cape, feeling charts, books and more that help kids have fun and manage an array of feelings.
The coping kits are provided free to families. Donors can also buy kits for kids.
Parker and his mother, Rochelle, who has a background in child education and behavior, run Purple Playas together.
In just a year, they’ve managed to help hundreds of kids in hospitals all over Tampa Bay.
“Just knowing kids are going through this sucks,” says Parker. “So if I can help just a little, I’m going to do that.”