It takes a special individual to turn the pain and struggles of the past into a promising future.
That's what Vanessa Hyska, the daughter of Kelly and Wayne Gaston Jr., is doing with her high school graduation project this year. Vanessa is using her musical talents to create a Christmas CD to raise funds for the Children's Miracle Network and Ronald McDonald House.
After having a grand mal seizure at the age of 18 months, doctors predicted a grim future for Vanessa. They weren't sure that she would make a full recovery, and feared that she might have trouble with basic skills such as walking or talking.
Today, Vanessa is a thriving 18-year-old senior at Lehighton Area High School. Her family remains grateful to the staff at Geisinger Medical Center for helping her recover, and to the Ronald McDonald House for hosting the family while she remained hospitalized.
When it came time to plan for her high school graduation project, Vanessa knew that she wanted to give back to the groups that helped her family 16 years ago. She chose to record a Christmas CD, combining her love of music and singing with a desire to give back.
"This is more than a senior project," said Vanessa. "I wanted this to be something that I would remember forever."
"Vanessa Lyn: My Gift to You" will be available for purchase this holiday season throughout Lehighton and Jim Thorpe. Proceeds from the $10 CD will be divided between the Ronald McDonald House and the Children's Miracle Network, which sponsors medical equipment purchases for Geisinger's pediatric center.
"I've always said that the reason I'm still here is because I have a gift," said Vanessa. "God gives us gifts, and we have a reason for our gifts. You can't waste them. I have something that I want to share with other children in need."
Along the way, Vanessa was helped by many teachers and friends. Mentors Kim Laird and Robert Barowski helped with musical arrangements and the disc's cover design. Musicians David Westrip, Kathy Wufsus, and Laird accompanied Vanessa on most songs. Her high school adviser is Sharon Wufsus-Leitzel.
Studio recording time was paid for by the Rachel W. Hoffmeier 4-H Scholarship. The album was recorded exclusively at Penn's Peak Radio. Editing was done by Penn's Peak Radio program director Conrad Flynn.
"They're all so talented," she said of the people working with her. "I feel truly grateful. This is not something that every kid gets to do."
In school, Vanessa has a busy schedule that includes chorus, singing with the jazz band, and drama club. She is also a member of the Carbon County 4H and the Franklin Township Women's Auxiliary.
She auditioned for the eighth season of "American Idol," and was second runner-up in Jim Thorpe idol last year.
"I've never done anything on a professional level, but I've always wanted to record," she added. "It's definitely a step up for me."
While Vanessa is currently focused on raising funds for these two charities, she hopes that this CD is just the beginning of her musical career.
"It's exciting," she said. "I heard on the radio that Carrie Underwood is releasing her newest album. Hopefully in a few years, you'll hear my name on the radio."
For now, Vanessa is preparing to finish her senior year at Lehighton and applying to colleges. She hopes to major in elementary education and special education and minor in performing arts. She would also like to audition for Juilliard, but added that the audition process is very intense.
"Vanessa Lyn: My Gift to You" will be available for purchase throughout Carbon County, including Carbon County Music and More, Darlene's Hair Care, The Primitive Pinecone (Hill's Tree Farm), Alfie's Pizza Shop, Sound Check, and Mallard's market, all located in Lehighton.
The CD will also be available in Jim Thorpe at The Gem Shop and The Mauch Chunk Pharmacy. All proceeds will benefit the Children's Miracle Network and the Ronald McDonald House.
Business owners interested in offering the CD can call (570) 401-9523 for more information.