Four-year-old Harlow Phillips sat in the cab of an excavator Monday morning, watching the bucket turn up dirt on an empty lot in Evansville.
This was no ordinary dirt. The ground beneath her eventually will support a house built by Harlow’s father, Andy Phillips, and other volunteers.
Money from selling the house will benefit Beat Nb, a neuroblastoma research and awareness organization that helps people like Harlow, said Kim Katzenmeyer, Harlow’s aunt.
The family hopes to donate at least $200,000 as a result of the project, which is named “A Home for Harlow.”
A dozen family members and friends gathered for a groundbreaking Monday morning, dressed in black T-shirts with purple letters spelling “Team Harlow.”
The guest of honor’s shirt had sparkly purple letters that stood out in the crowd.
Last September, Harlow was diagnosed with Stage 4 neroublastoma, a cancer commonly found in the adrenal glands. Since then, the 4-year-old has been in and out of the hospital, sometimes staying for weeks at a time, said her mother, Melani Phillips.
Harlow returned home from the hospital Saturday, Melani said, and was scheduled to begin immunotherapy, one of the last treatments she needs to beat back the disease, in June. That was postponed when she was diagnosed with thrombotic microangiopathy, a disease that affects blood vessels.
Harlow’s father brainstormed the house idea in January while sitting in the hospital with his daughter. He started sharing his ideas with others, and the project snowballed from there, he said.
Andy owns Phillips Contracting and has built homes since 2011, he said.
Usually, he and his team need five months to build a house. He estimates this house will take about eight months to complete because volunteers are building it with donated materials.
The project is about two-thirds of the way funded, said Katzenmeyer, Harlow’s aunt. Money is still needed to pay off the lot, and some materials also are needed.
The Phillips family was surprised to see how quickly area residents stepped up to volunteer. Melani said her first Facebook post about the project got more than 600 shares.
This is not the first project in Evansville to benefit Beat Nb.
Harlow’s cousin Logan Katzenmeyer and his friend Kellan Sunness hosted a charity ball for the family in February.
The event raised more than $90,000, Kim Katzenmeyer said. From that, $50,000 was given to the UW Carbone Cancer Center in Madison. About $30,000 was donated to Beat Nb, and the remaining helped the Phillips family pay the cost of Harlow’s treatment.
After receiving immunotherapy, Harlow will take medication for two years to prevent the cancer from returning.
But on Monday, she scampered and played with other children as if none of those worries existed.