NASHUA -- People who knew Rebecca Tabat at Nashua High School North knew she was someone who would make a difference. What they didn't know is how little time she would have to get things done.
Shortly after Tabat, an honor student and varsity track and soccer player, graduated with the class of 2009, she was diagnosed with signet ring cell adenocarcinoma, an aggressive and dangerous type of stomach cancer.
While Tabat was at Massachusetts General being treated for the disease, she saw other kids in the ward struggling with different illnesses. The hospital had a play room for children, but pieces were missing from board games and no one knew where to find the controls for the DVD players.
Although she was undergoing a course of chemotherapy nearly as painful as the disease itself, Tabat launched Cure With Hope, a charity to raise money to fill the room with new toys, books, games and anything else that might comfort a sick kid. She designed a logo and Cure With Hope began selling T-shirts, bracelets and teddy bears to fund the project.
Tabat died on March 29, 2010, but her legacy has lived on in a big way. Cure With Hope is now a thriving nonprofit committed to Tabat's vision of bringing comfort to sick children. Over the weekend, family and friends held their third annual fundraiser for Cure With Hope at Nashua's The Big 1 ice cream stand, one of Tabat's favorite spots.
"Two of our employees were best friends with Rebecca, and they asked if they could set up a table and sell some Cure With Hope items," recalled Jeanne Marquis, who owns The Big 1 with her husband, Gary.
That table of items has morphed into a two-day event with raffles, a bake sale, face-painting, games, fire engine tours, games and other events.
"It's become something very special for all of us," said Marquis.
Tabat's dad, Martin, who was under a big tent of gift baskets and fresh-baked cookies, said the community response has been extraordinary.
"People, complete strangers, keep coming and helping," he said.
Her mom, Charlene, who now manages the nonprofit Cure With Hope organization with her husband, said she had never done this type of work before. But she said she's getting some help from Rebecca.
"I continually approach this with her guiding me," she said.
Although Cure With Hope began at Mass. General Hospital, the Tabats decided to shift the charity toward helping children in New Hampshire. Cure With Hope has made a $75,000 pledge to Children's Hospital at Dartmouth for the Pediatric Inpatient Refresh Project, a renovation of the pediatric floor with a central family play area.
So far, Cure With Hope has made good on $60,000 of the promise with a variety of events that have raised money for the project.
Marquis said that over the past two years, The Big 1 event has been able to add $10,000 to the Cure With Hope effort. But the weekend event is more than a traditional fundraiser.
"(Rebecca) loved The Big 1, and this brings the people she knew and loved together," said Tabat's friend, Sarah Collins.
"People say this about everyone, but she actually was the nicest person you ever met," added Collins. "All she wanted was to make people happy."
Longtime friends Dominika Legatova and Mackenzie Crowell said that no matter what she was facing, Tabat remained relentlessly positive.
"Even though she was really sick, she wanted to keep going," said Legatova. "She wanted to touch the world even though she had gotten this bad card."
Erica Archambault and Elizabeth McAfee, who work at The Big 1, said Tabat was a regular at the ice cream stand and even when a line customers stretched out to the street, it was still easy to spot Tabat's beaming smile in the crowd.
Many of the volunteers working at the Big 1 fundraiser had stories about Tabat's generosity, her optimism and the courage she showed fighting her disease, and the fundraiser gives them the chance to share those memories.
"She was an example to all of us," said her dad.
Marquis agreed said she was proud of her employees and happy The Big 1 can help Rebecca Tabat's cause move forward.
"The kid had a heart of gold," she said.