Health & Harmony: Girl’s sun-safety mitzvah honors grandfather she lost to melanoma

Brooke Diamond of Boca Raton honored Alex Morgenstern by working to put sunscreen dispensers in parks. Photo provided

By Joyce Reingold

A stuffed animal resembling a favorite pet. Water-resistant earbuds. A tween-sized fitness tracker. These are all suggested gift ideas for the 12-year-old set that would surely put smiles on many young faces. But when Brooke Diamond turned 12, she had other ideas.

The Boca Raton girl put out a call to friends, family and corporations asking for contributions of sunscreen and sun-protective clothing items, and money to buy two sunscreen dispensers to place at local parks.

It was the year leading up to her April 13, 2019, bat mitzvah at B’nai Torah, and she’d chosen melanoma awareness and prevention as a mitzvah project, her way of giving back to the community.

“I knew right away what I wanted to do,” she said, her soft voice filled with conviction.

When she was 10, she’d lost her beloved maternal grandfather, Alex Morgenstern, 73, to stage 4 metastatic melanoma. She wanted to do something meaningful to prevent others from developing what the Melanoma Research Foundation calls the deadliest form of skin cancer.

Brooke, now 13 and an eighth-grader at Don Estridge High Tech Middle School, is well-versed in melanoma facts and statistics. “On average, a person’s risk for melanoma doubles if he or she has had more than five sunburns,” she said. “Regular daily use of an SPF 15 or higher sunscreen reduces the risk of developing melanoma by 50%.”

While there is no cure for melanoma, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says “most cases of melanoma could be prevented.”

Finding hope and purpose in prevention, Brooke watched as donations to her project, dubbed Peace, Love + Sunshine, began rolling in.

“We wrote letters to sunscreen companies and clothing companies,” said her mother, Lauren. “It was like the holidays. Every time you got to the door, there were boxes of sunscreen or boxes of the neck wraps fishermen wear.”

From the bounty, Brooke assembled 46 packages of sunscreen, SPF shirts and SPF hats for children at the Milagro Center in Delray Beach. And as the donations continued to flow, she delivered the same potentially lifesaving items to the dermatology department at the Caridad Center in Boynton Beach.

Brooke helped put together a 12-member team of friends and family — including her father, Harold — to take part in the SafeSun Foundation’s annual Run From the Rays 5K/1 Mile Run/Walk.

SafeSun, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the prevention, early diagnosis and treatment of melanoma and other skin cancers, donated the team’s registration fees to Caridad’s dermatology department.

Through Facebook fundraisers, Brooke raised $2,000. Del Prado Elementary — where Lauren teaches fifth grade — and its PTA contributed $500. Pride Air Conditioning donated another $500.

With $3,000 in hand, Brooke planned to acquire two automatic sunscreen dispensers she hoped to see placed near the carousel in Sugar Sand Park and by the tennis courts at the Swim and Racquet Center. Both were places where she and her brother, Mitch, now 11, had spent happy hours with the grandfather they called “Pop Pop.”

To learn more about the dispensers, Lauren spoke with Fran Nachlas, a founder of SafeSun. Nachlas had partnered with the Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation Department and the West Palm Beach-based Richard David Kann Melanoma Foundation to place dispensers in other Boca Raton locations.

The Diamonds then reached out to the foundation, asking the 501(c)(3) to safeguard their funds until it was time to work together to buy the dispensers.

Stacy Ostrau, executive director of the RDK foundation, said, “We’re really proud of Brooke’s dedication to help raise awareness and support people being sun-safe. She was so passionate about it, because of her grandfather, and she really worked hard to get that done.”

On Oct. 7, Brooke and her mother stood before Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District commissioners, asking them to green-light Brooke’s request. In a real-life lesson in civics, Brooke saw commissioners embrace and amplify her proposal.

Commissioner Craig Ehrnst proposed, and the panel agreed, that the district absorb the cost of filling and maintaining the dispensers. Each dispenser cost $500, with another $500 needed to fill it with sunscreen — approximately 4,000 “squirts,” according to the RDK foundation.

With the district absorbing the sunscreen expense, Brooke was able to donate another dispenser to Sugar Sand Park and the Swim and Racquet Center, for a total of four, and keep funds in reserve for future installations.

In the chambers that evening, a proud grandmother Tamara Morgenstern donated $1,000, more sun protection for future park visitors.

Brooke’s desire “to make a difference in our community inspired the board,” district Executive Director Briann Harms said in a news release. “By supporting her project, we encourage youth to engage in outreach while simultaneously helping protect our community. We are proud of her and happy to support this important initiative.”

“I’d love to see this as more of a holistic project for all of the area,” Ehrnst said at the meeting. “So, if that means another way of doing it instead of us individually putting one up here, one there, I’d rather work with the city to see how we can do this across the city.”

He looked at Brooke. “I’m very supportive of your project, Brooke, and if we can make it happen on a bigger basis, I think that would be more exciting, don’t you?”

“Yes!” she replied, and later she called it “awesome.”

Brooke isn’t always comfortable in the spotlight, but when it comes to advocating for sun-safety and melanoma awareness, she stands tall. “I don’t want the attention,” she said. “But I want the message to be out there.”

Through Peace, Love + Sunshine, her tribute to her grandfather, the message, and his memory, live on. Watch this space for installation plans, which are still in the works.

“It was a part-time job helping to manage this project with Brooke, and nothing gave me greater pleasure to do it because I knew something good was going to come out of something sad,” Lauren said. “And we talk about my dad in some way, shape or form just about every day.”

SunSmart America guidelines
When the UV index reaches 3 and above, use these five SunSmart guidelines:
• Slip on sun-protective clothing. Wear loose-fitting, close-weave clothing that covers as much skin as possible during outside activities.
• Slap on SPF 30+ sunscreen. Apply SPF 30+ broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen 20 minutes before going outside to ensure maximum effectiveness. Reapply every two hours or more often if you’re involved in physical or water activities.
• Put on a hat, to protect the neck, ears, face and nose.
• Stay out of the sun as much as possible between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Use shade whenever possible. UV radiation can reflect from surfaces such as water, sand and concrete, so it is important to wear a hat, appropriate clothing and sunscreen even while you’re in the shade.
• Slide on sunglasses. Exposure to UV radiation can damage the eyes. When practical, wear close-fitting, wraparound sunglasses that cover as much of the eye areas as possible. Look for glasses that block 100 percent of UV rays and that absorb most high-energy visible radiation, or blue light.
Source: Richard David Kann Melanoma Foundation

Melanoma facts
• When it’s detected early, the five-year survival rate for melanoma is 99%.
• It’s estimated that the number of new melanoma cases diagnosed in 2019 will increase by 7.7%. 
• The number of melanoma deaths is expected to decrease by 22% in 2019. 
• The vast majority of melanomas are caused by the sun. One U.K. study found that about 86% of melanomas can be attributed to exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun.
• On average, a person’s risk for melanoma doubles if he or she has had more than five sunburns, but just one blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescence more than doubles a person’s chances of developing melanoma later in life.
• Help prevent melanoma by seeking shade whenever possible, wearing protective clothing, avoiding direct sunlight between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., and using broad spectrum sunscreen with SPF of at least 30.
Source: Skin Cancer Foundation

Joyce Reingold has a lifelong interest in health and healthy living. Send column ideas to

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