Friday, June 29, 2007

Becoming an Educated Donor and Volunteer

I like to check in with Charity Navigator Trent Stamp's blog on a frequent basis. This week, he posted a link to an article in Money Magazine educating donors how to be efficient in both their monetary donations and volunteerism for charities.

I think the point of the article is reminding people to find the passion in what they are commiting to. Get involved with a charity (doesn't have to be this one, though we love to have you!) because it means something to you. Doing something out of obligation never is effective.

For me, I had to narrow it down. I run a charity, so that means I tend to have a bleeding heart. I watched American Idol's show Idol Gives Back and like the rest wanted to reach for my phone and get to calling for my donation. I have been fortunate to attend many charity events in the last few years. I have not found many charities that aren't doing good works for good causes. But, I just can't give to them all.

So, this past year, I narrowed down my list. Naturally, Heroes for Children is my largest charity involvement. Well, it does pay my salary! But, and this is the more important part--it is what means the most to me. I love the cause and I love to see the positive effects of the dollars to the families. It is hard for me to give money to any other group. With the exception of very small donations to support friends or family (such as a donation to my mother in law's Team in Training run last year). But, I do volunteer my TIME, which I feel is just as important in many cases, to a different group other than Heroes for Children.

I've been fortunate to be the Arts & Crafts staff member (Director this summer--yikes!) for Camp Discovery, a week long cancer camp for kids 7-16 from San Antonio, Dallas (Medical City Children's Hospital only) and Austin. The camp is funded by the American Cancer Society and free for all campers. Since January, I have attended monthly planning meetings to help in the coordination of camp. Camp is in two weeks and I can't wait! I spend one exhausting week with kids, working in the A&C room to create woodworking projects, lanyard necklaces, and fuse bead art. I even suffer through my least favorite activity--tye dying--and participate in the ever disgusting "Jello Wars."

For me, it was about finding what means the most and sticking to just though. Heroes for Children and Camp Discovery have my heart. What has yours?

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Cancer stinks!!

It seems like everyday, more and more people around us get diagnosed with cancer. It is mind boggling, and hard to understand. Just last week, a dear friend had surgery for breast cancer, a young mother....why???? Then another friends husband was diagnosed with AML, after they already lost a child at the age of 2. We can put men (and women) on the moon, but can't discover what causes or cures cancer?? It is such a hard part of my job to think of all the parents and families out their that are currently dealing with a childhood cancer diagnosis. It is so heartbreaking, when you know personally what they are experiencing. Very sad. While HFC can help, it is never enough, and we can not wipe away the pain. Cancer robs these precious kids of their childhood, and that is NOT FAIR!! Taylor would be 10 years old next month. TEN!! It is hard to believe. I only had her for 4 1/2 precious years. Not near enough time.
Karen Stevenson, aka "Cupcake" is a fabulous photographer here in town. She has taken some great pics of all my kids. Her old assistant, recently lost her son to complications from leukemia. Karen is having a photography contest to raise money for the family. All you need to do is snap a close up picture of your child's eyes, send it to her and a $5 minimum donation. All $ goes to the family, and you have a chance to win a great prize!! Check out for all the details!!
On a brighter note, my 3 kiddos are all doing great and enjoying their summer!! Lots of time spent at the swimming pool, (well except for this week!) Luke just LOVEs the water, and will stick his entire face in it! Tristyn loves to carry him across the shallow end, while he kicks his little feet!! They are such blessings in my life! Tristyn even will put Luke down for his nap or bedtime now! What a huge help she is!! That will come in handy when baby sis is born! We had a great time at our board of directors/advisory board pool party last Sunday. All the kids enjoyed swimming, sliding down the huge waterslide and chowing down on some delicious hamburgers! Thanks to the Smith Family for hosting us!
Happy Summer!!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

How did I get so lucky?

Julianna during treatment

Sometimes I look at Julianna and wonder, how did I get so lucky? She is such a GREAT kid - seriously! She will stop whatever she is playing with and help me if I ask her to. This morning, I decided that I wanted to move all of the toys from what is supposed to be my formal living room (though we've been using it as a "play room") and move them into Jamison's room. She was right in the middle of watching Madagascar, but she stopped and helped me for three solid hours. She worked SO HARD. I kept telling her that it was fine with me if she went and watched her movie or whatever, but she was happy just helping me. She is always so giving to others.

I remember when Stewart Investments sponosored our Make a Wish Foundation wish and they had a cocktail party for us on the top floor of a high rise building in downtown Dallas. They presented Julianna with literally a MOUNTAIN of Disney related toys. It was enough for 10 kids, but most of it was for her. There were a few gifts for Reagan and Jamison too. She didn't know that at first. She was 3.5 years old at the time of the party, and while I was making a speech and thanking everyone for their generosity, Julianna was making three piles of toys. I finally asked her what she was doing, and she said, "Well, this pile is for Reagan, this pile is for Jamison, and this pile is mine!" Yes, her pile was a little bigger ;) but can you believe that she was sharing without even being asked? She didn't even need to share because her siblings already had gifts. What a sweetheart.

When she was four, she got up before everyone in the whole house on Easter Sunday and hunted all of the Easter eggs that the Easter Bunny had hidden. She came into my room and proudly announced what she had done. I kind of shrugged and thought to myself, Well, I guess I will need to hide some of those eggs so that Reagan and Jamison can hunt a little, but when I went into the living room, on the coffee table sat three Easter baskets - all of them full of the hunted eggs. She had evenly distributed all of the eggs into all three baskets! FOUR YEARS OLD!

I hope that she always stays this giving. She has such a kind heart, and I think it will carry her far. She has been through so much in her short life, and you'd think she'd be somewhat jaded, but she definitely isn't. She knows that she was sick - she remembers. She just chooses to look to the future instead of dwell on the past.

Sounds like a good plan to me.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Our "Normal" Summer

Summer has been in full swing here in the Cook household for the last three weeks. We have an extra long summer this year since school doesn't start until August 27. I have big plans for this summer... TO BE A NORMAL FAMILY. This will be our "first summer" as a normal family in a LONG time.

Julianna was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia on February 25, 2004. She was just three years and two days old. She looked completely healthy. I had taken her to the pediatrician for her three year check up, but guess what? She wasn't healthy. She had CANCER. It was the biggest shock of my life. I still think about our "diagnosis day" every single day. Now, instead of that "heavy" feeling in my heart that I used to get when I thought about that day, I get a feeling of disbelief. Did all of that REALLY happen to us? Seriously?

Now, if you look at Julianna, she doesn't look sick AT ALL. She has a head full of curly brownish blonde hair, pink cheeks, and eyes full of sparkles. She is COMPLETELY HEALTHY. That's why we are going to have a NORMAL SUMMER.

There are SO MANY things you CAN'T do when you have a child with cancer. Go swimming at a public pool? No way. Go to the park? No way. Play in the mall play area? No way. Go to the beach? No way. Do you know what lurks in all of those places? GERMS GERMS GERMS!!!!! Julianna's counts stayed SO LOW all during her 2.5 year treatment. We had to be so careful about everything. EVERYTHING. Illness meant that you had to go into the hospital. Believe me, there were PLENTY of illnessnes despite our carefulness.... but who wants to go looking for trouble?

Now, we have big plans for our SUMMER OF NORMALCY. We are going to the beach!!! We are going to swimming lessons!!! We are going to gymnastics lessons!!! We are going to the mall, the zoo, restaurants, birthday parties... you name it, we're going!!

Am I still careful about germs? HECK YES!!!!!!! But, I don't let the fear of them keep us from enjoying ourselves! We went swimming this morning! We are going to Gatti Town tonight!! And we are going to have a GREAT time!

More soon!


Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Summer Donation Solicitation

Dear Heroes for Children Supporter,

Every summer Heroes for Children receives the same call—a social worker who needs assistance for a family in a hurry. Our average processing period of less than seven days is just not fast enough. It’s the summer in Texas, the utility bills are more than usual, and the cancer family needs our help. Every summer, Heroes for Children responds to this call in the same way—immediate payment of utilities to keep a family from battling the Texas heat without air conditioning.

While many families are preparing for summer vacation, trips to the beach, and hours at the pool, families battling childhood cancer are spending hours in the hospital for in-patient stays, surgeries, and clinic visits. With cancer treatment lasting from six months to three years, most families report one parent quitting his/her job to care for the patient. This loss of income compounded with the added financial strain of medical bills can become more than a parent can handle. Last summer, more than 30% of all requests for financial assistance were solely to pay utility payments. An additional 30% went towards general household bills, to include rent or mortgage and utilities.

This summer, we ask that you consider making a donation to Heroes for Children to aid families with meeting those important basic needs. Whether you donate a gift of $25 or $750 (our average assistance donation to families), you make an impact for a Texas family and aid Heroes for Children in accomplishing our mission. Thank you for continually supporting the goal of Heroes for Children of enabling families to focus on the most important part of treatment—the child.

We thank you in advance for your gift to Heroes for Children. Your donation makes the mission of the organization possible for the many families across the state that will be served. If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact us at 214-256-5824.

Jenny Scott Larissa Linton
Executive Director/Co-Founder Director of Development/Co-Founder

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

A little participation, Part II

We recently asked for some group participation. It's time for the answers! Not to worry, if you didn't get a chance to ask or you now have an additional question, please feel free to submit your question in the comment section.

Question: I have one for the medical social workers: did they do anything to particular to "specialize" in oncology or pediatrics, or did they do the general medical sw training and then by virtue of their job placement, work primarily with those families?

Answer: From our special social worker Cynthia Harney at Cook Children's of Ft. Worth--
"Each graduate school is set up differently, but most are set with generalized specialities such as medical, school, family services, gerontology, etc.

My first suggestion would be not to decide now tht hematology/oncology is the way you want to go. There are so many great opportunities out there in various medical settings that may be your niche. In graduate school at University of Houston I specialized in Medical Social Work. I did my fellowship at MD Anderson, when I left there, I was convinced that cancer and end of life was absolutely NOT my cup of tea. It had been a very trying and emotionally overwhelming experience for me. My first job was with MHMR - not my thing. My second job was at Texas Childrens in Houston and I liked it, a lot. I worked with kids with Rheumatology disorders. I then had a great opportunity to expand my horizons and became the Director of Social Services at a nursing facility for the elderly. I heard of an opportunity with Vitas hospice - my initial thought - "I can't do dying people." I took it and fell in love with it. I left there after six years and am now here at Cook's doing oncology. Something I never thought I would do is my love - its the weirdest thing.

I'm 10 years out of graduate school and it took me a while to find where I want to be. The other important thing in social work is to remember there is always work out there for us. We do what we do because we love helping people. More than ever be most aware of yourself, know your limits, know how to take care of yourself. Social work can be draining, you have to know your limits, you have to know when to make a change and not be afraid to make one. I like that you want to consider hem/onc as your speciality - I just would hate for you to miss out on another opportunity you may love greater. Just continue to love to care for people, care for yourself, and remain open-minded. Good luck."

Question: I'd like to know more about the background of Heroes and Handbags. How did this fundraiser idea come to be? How far in advance do you begin working on the event? Did you run into any problems getting pursues donated?

Answer: Heroes and Handbags came about from a brainstorming session. After a lunch introducing 100 Dallas women to HFC, twenty ladies came to the brainstorm session to determine our next step. The Dallas market is saturated with good charities working and competing for dollars for their mission. Luncheon, galas, golf tournaments, and races are throughout the community and the year. As a new charity, having a unique event was important. Then came Heroes and Handbags.

Work begins on the next year before the last year even ends! For example, before our March 29th event in Dallas, we had already selected our chair for the following year. Now, the 2008 date is set, additional committee members are being selected, and the location is being confirmed. The full committee of ladies will meet in September, and we will work heavily between September and April.

Handbags are all donated by local boutique stores, chain stores, and individuals. Most donations come in the spring, closer to the event. We had more than 175 bags in this year's auction and eight live auction items more valuable or priceless than the others.

Question: On average, how many applications for assistance does HFC receive in a week?

Answer: Depends on the week. The beginning and end of the month are the busiest given that is when most bills are due. An average of ten applications come in every week. Applications are handled each week--with checks mailed out once a week for financial assistance.

Question: What is the most common thing for families request assistance?

Answer: Rent and utilities make up more than 60% of all requests for families. In the summer, utility payments and the needs for emergency requests are our most requested.

Question: What is the most unusual thing HFC's ever been requested to assist with financially?

Answer: I don't know if it was the most unusual, but for me, it was one of our saddest. We had a request for a dying child. The parents wanted the grandparents to be able to say goodbye, but they lived in Mexico without the funds to bring them to Dallas. The parents were faced with a difficult choice--they had the funds to cover the expense of bringing the grandparents to say final goodbyes to their child OR they could save the money to pay for the child's funeral. What a difficult, devastating choice. Heroes for Children funded the grandparents flight to say their goodbyes.

Question: How do handle so many successful fundraisers? It is just Jenny, Larissa, and Cheryl as your office manager right?

Answer: Oh, that's a difficult question. Do we handle them all? I think I was sick for two weeks after Heroes and Handbags Houston! No, in all seriousness, it is through the dedication of commited volunteers who give their time to the fundraising events being planned. Each event has a volunteer chair steering the committee and working with our staff. The support of the Board of Directors and Advisory Board members assist the staff in keeping us on track.

Currently, there are few employees working for Heroes for Children. I work as the full time Executive Director and Larissa works three days in the office as the Director of Development. However, when it comes to major decisions about Heroes for Children and the direction of the organization, she and I both serve as Co-Founders. Cheryl Pellett is our Office Manager, our office goddess is more like it. Without Cheryl, most tasks would be left incomplete. We also have a Business Manager, Cricket, who works once a week. Financial responsibility and stability are vital in the life span of a nonprofit. Cricket handles our finances--reconciling our accounts, working with our auditors, writing checks for financial assistance to families. On average, she works about five hours a week.

Thanks everyone for your participation in this first Q&A. Again, if you have a question or if my answers have spurred on more questions, please feel free to ask!