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Vickroy: Stricken by virus, Tinley Park teen parlays wish into dream job

Courtney Van Ryn 16 Tinley Park received sewing machine from Tinley Wish last year has used her talent sewing machine

Courtney Van Ryn, 16, of Tinley Park, received a sewing machine from Tinley Wish last year and has used her talent and sewing machine to start her own small business, Courtney Creations. She is pictured at her home Friday, December 14, 2012. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media

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To see Courtney Van Ryn’s wares, visit CourtneyCreations.wordpress.com. For more information on how to get involved in Tinley Wish, visit
tinleywish.org or call the
Tinley Park Police Department at (708) 532-9111.

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Updated: January 21, 2013 2:18PM



They say when a door closes, a window opens. And sometimes it’s the window of opportunity.

After a bizarre virus sidelined Courtney VanRyn in March 2011, the Tinley Park teenager was forced to give up playing on the volleyball and basketball teams at Chicago Christian High School. For a long time she could barely walk, let alone run, spike and shoot.

But she didn’t let the blow keep her down.

That year, on her Christmas wish list, she wrote something that surprised even her mom, Kim.

“She asked for a sewing machine,” Kim VanRyn said. “I couldn’t imagine why.”

Then, a week before Christmas, one arrived, courtesy of Tinley Wish, a nonprofit organization that raises money throughout the year to help individuals and families in need. A committee collects nominations each year from schools, churches and humanitarian groups. It then chooses finalists and presents those with an array of gifts at Christmas.

This year’s Tinley Wish committee chose nine gift recipients. Courtney and other past recipients were among those who volunteered to wrap and help deliver presents.

The gifts are delivered on a Saturday in December. A cavalcade of police and fire vehicles escort Santa and a host of elves to each recipient’s house.

When the parade arrived at Courtney’s house last year, the then-freshman was left speechless.

“It was unreal, there were so many people and so many gifts,” Courtney said.

Kim said, “We’d never had a Christmas like that before.”

The year had been so tough, emotionally and financially, for the VanRyns that Kim said the family had decided to “have a sock Christmas. We were just going to exchange socks,” she said. “All we really wanted was for Courtney to walk again.”

But then the gifts arrived. Lots of them, something for every family member.

Among them was a sewing machine for Courtney.

“I wasn’t sure why I wanted it; I just knew I did,” said Courtney, now 16.

Her physical therapist suggested she find a new endeavor, something fun that she could do while sitting down, something that might also improve her finger grip.

She did more than that. Courtney taught herself to sew, through YouTube video lessons and lots of practice.

“I caught on really fast and it was fun,” she said.

Then, she parlayed her new hobby into a small business, making baby supplies, including blankets, burp cloths and car seat covers, as well as women’s necklaces, head bands and purses.

So far she’s sold more than 600 items, mostly at craft fairs and through her website, CourtneyCreations.wordpress.com

She also gets requests from extended family members, including her aunt and her younger sisters, April and Alexis.

Dennis Mahoney, the Tinley Park police officer who helped create Tinley Wish 17 years ago, said, “It’s awesome. Who’d have believed that a sewing machine could energize someone like this?”

Courtney’s dad, Skip, used the Home Depot gift cards, as well as some new tools that he received in the gifting, to make a bathroom handicapped-accessible for Courtney and to create a sewing room.

The cabinets where she stores many of her supplies were a gift from her grandmother, who recently had her kitchen remodeled.

Among the other gifts Courtney received were a new television because the family’s old one was on the blink, clothes, new laptops and Kindles. In addition, they received gift cards to Jewel food store and Gatto’s restaurant.

“It was such an overwhelming experience,” Kim said. “All these people wanted to show love.”

Courtney said, “It really proves what a caring and loving town Tinley Park is. It’s nice to know how many people care and wish me well.”

Courtney limits her sewing time to weekends because of school and therapy. She gets physical therapy five days a week.

It has been 20 months since postviral myositis landed her in the hospital. For many months, her progress was one step forward followed by one step back, Kim said.

Lately, it has been all forward. She can now walk short distances with the aid of a walker.

“I am slowly, slowly getting better,” she said.

And so is her sewing.

“Right now, I’m just breaking even, but I hope to start earning some money for college soon,” she said.

Courtney says her favorite subject in school is now health class. She also plans to become a physical therapist — an occupation she hadn’t considered before her illness.

“My condition has changed a lot of things, including my choice of career fields,” she said.



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