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One bead at a time, girl hopes to help lives of children dealing with cancer

At the tender age of 7, Jillian Garcia has already found her life's work: helping others.

Sure, the soon-to-be second-grader likes swimming, soccer, riding her bike and collecting stickers, especially happy faces and stars.

But Jillian's real passion is raising money for kids with bone cancer.

No, she doesn't have the disease; neither does anyone in her family.

But after she saw an ad on television asking for donations to fund bone cancer research, she decided to take action.

Why?

"I thought I could help them, and find a cure so they could go to school and play with friends and be regular just like us," said Jillian, sitting on a zebra-striped rug in her dad's den.

It's on this rug that Jillian is hatching her action plan.

Every few days she parks herself here with her jewelry-making kit and spends a few hours crafting bracelets and necklaces.

Jillian wants to sell the jewelry, then donate the proceeds to bone cancer research. She likes to watch "Hannah Montana" or "Wizards of Waverly Place" while she works. Once in a while she gets her 11-year-old brother Elijah to pitch in on necklace-making duty.

The jewelry is just one part of Jillian's fundraising effort.

She's also collecting coins in unique-looking piggy bank -- a foot-high plastic replica of the Eiffel Tower.

She's also willing to get her hands dirty for her cause. Recently her grandfather offered to pay her five cents per snail to help him rid his garden of the slimy critters. Jillian pulled more than 100 snails off one bush, earning about $13. Now she's added those dollars to her bone cancer fund.

Money isn't the only kind of charity Jillian is involved in.

For the second time in her short life, she's growing out her hair to donate to cancer victims. She'll donate it to a charity called Locks of Love, which makes it into wigs for kids who've lost their hair to chemotherapy.

Jillian's parents, Robert Garcia and Josephina Cruz, say giving has always been part of Jillian's nature.

"Anything that has to do with helping children or other people, she's totally into it," said Cruz.

"This is her thing," said Garcia. "She was born wanting to give her stuff away."

A recent trip to Taco Bell was no exception.

Jillian donated $2 to a Children's Hospital of Central California fundraising effort at the restaurant.

When her parents give Jillian her allowance, she usually ends up spending it on other people.

Where did Jillian get this drive to donate?

She attributes her generosity to her parents' influence and to attending church every two weeks with her grandmother.

But her parents say she was born with a good soul.

Garcia and Cruz call their daughter an inspiration. They say she teaches them more than they teach her.

"People can always do more for other people, but to have someone so small stand up and say, 'Let's give it all away' -- she's pretty amazing," said Cruz.

Reporter Leslie Albrecht can be reached at (209) 385-2484 or lalbrecht@mercedsun-star.com.

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