Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Camp Discovery= Amazing Learning Experience

I just had the privilege of volunteering at American Cancer Society’s Camp Discovery I spent a week with 100 volunteers (some who have had cancer and the rest who’ve been touched by cancer in some way) and 150 kids (ALL who have been touched by cancer).

Going into camp as a first time counselor I didn’t really know what to expect. All I knew was that I was a green girl counselor and I would be in charge of watching over 10 and 11 year old girls for the week. I was honestly expecting most of them to be in varied states of health (e.g. extreme pain, hair loss, headaches, nausea, etc.—all the side effects of chemotherapy). But that is not at all what I was welcomed with. The great thing about Camp Discovery is that once you become a camper, you are a camper for life. So the Green Girls show up and they are all HEALTHY VIBRANT young ladies! Most of my girls had been off treatment for a while and were doing very well. It was very exciting to see that camp was there to give them an outlet to spend time with people who have experienced somewhat the same ordeal as they have. Don’t get me wrong, some of the other campers were in varied states of health, like just being released from a bone marrow transplant recovery, or a neutropenic state where they have low immune systems so they are extremely susceptible to infections. But those campers still go to camp and they have the time of their lives. They go fishing (and when the catch one they have to kiss it), they go dancing, they go horse back riding, shoot archery, they raid the boys cabins, and all the other normal camp things. It’s amazing how much energy the kids can generate from each other. Everyone, including volunteers and campers are so supportive throughout the whole camp!

One of the most touching features of camp is the remembrance ceremony they hold every year. The ceremony is a way for Camp Discovery participants to remember those who have lost their fight against cancer. Each camper who has passed away since last camp has a special candle dedicated to them with their picture and a special poem. Not only is it a time to remember past campers, it is also a time to remember anyone you have lost. I went to the ceremony, not to mourn the campers that had passed, but to mourn for Kira (that sounds selfish, but keep reading) and through my tears I could see all of the pain in the campers faces. It really hit me then, that not only do they have to deal with their own diagnosis and treatment, they have to deal with everyone else’s they meet in the hospital. I luckily (or not so luckily) have only been touched closely once by a cancer death, but I now know 150 other kids who have been touched a lot more by many more cancer deaths! Now EVERYDAY I will be working for those kids. When I mourn it won’t be just for Kira’s face I see, it will also be those camper’s faces!

Camp Discovery was a truly amazing experience. Jenny said Camp would be one of the best training tools for my job and she was right. Now everyday when I go to work I have the memory of all of those campers to think about—to keep me motivated to raise funds so we can help more and more families.

Upcoming Heroes Events

It’s that time of year!!! Save the date for all of Heroes for Children’s exciting events!

Join HFC in September at their annual 5K Run/ Walk at the Shops at Legacy. The 1K starts at 7:30 and the 5K starts at 8:00. Bring the whole family out to Plano for bounce houses, a trackless train, face painting, and a special show by children’s performer, Eddie Coker.

On October 19th we have our annual Golf Classic . There are two shot gun starts for the Golf Classic, one at 7:30 AM and the other at 1:30 PM. Come out to Twin Creeks Country Club and enjoy a fun filled day of golf, raffle prizes, great food, and more! This year we have exciting new features for the Golf Classic so be sure to register your team today!

On October 25th we have our inaugural Hold’Em for Heroes event. This one is exclusively for the guys. The ladies have their fun with handbags, it’s about time we let the men have some fun! Hold’em for Heroes will be held at Brook Hollow Golf Course from 7:30 PM to 11:00 PM.

And for the grand finale, in April 2008, the annual Heroes and Handbags will be held in Dallas and Houston. In 2007, the Handbags events collectively raised about $500,000!! So be sure to save the date for the Dallas Heroes and Handbags event on April 4th, 2008 at the Hilton Anatole . The Houston Heroes and Handbags event will be April 11, 2008 at River Oaks Country Club .

Visit our website or email Christi if you would like more information about Heroes for Children special events!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

How I Found Heroes

Thanks for the great welcome to HFC! I am so excited to begin my career with HFC! I found the organization online last winter and immediately knew I had to work for them. As soon as I read HFC’s mission, I was hooked.

In May of 2003, one of my best friends from High School, Kira, was diagnosed with AML. Her college physical blood work found the leukemia. She was immediately sent to Charlottesville for treatment and was in and out of the hospital for the remainder of her senior year. She didn’t even get to walk across the stage because she was undergoing treatment. Her father wore her gown and walked across the stage with her cap that proudly stated “Kira’s Dad”. My mom called her on the phone when her name was about to be called out so she could hear the principal call her name and the resounding standing ovation. After graduation, a few of us drove to Charlottesville to throw Kira her own graduation in the hospital. I spent the summer spending time with Kira either in Charlottesville or her home.

In the fall, I traveled to Houston to attend Rice University. It seemed like they had the Leukemia under control. I went back to Virginia in October for Fall Break and spent time with Kira. She was so upset during the fall because she was supposed to be in college like the rest of her friends. Her new chapter in life consisted of hospital stays and chemotherapy, not interesting college classes and new friends.

In November, she was sent to Seattle for a bone marrow transplant. However, when she arrived in Seattle the doctors told her the leukemia had progressed too much and a bone marrow transplant was not possible. The doctors told her she not be able to make the flight home, but she would have none of that. She begged and pleaded for them to fly her home. She flew from Seattle to Virginia and I immediately caught a flight from Houston to Virginia. She made the flight and began hospice care at home. I spent the next week at her side helping her parents take care of her. It was the most heart-wrenching experience. I could just see the life being sucked out of her little by little. She stayed alive to say goodbye to all the people she cared about. One friend wasn’t able to come right away, but she was very important to Kira. Once her last friend arrived to say goodbye, Kira died a few hours later. She was surrounded by her 13 disciples. I will never forget seeing her take her last breath! She died six months after her diagnosis, just a few weeks before her 19th birthday.

That is what lead me to HFC. Jenny and Larissa lost their girls to AML and I lost Kira to AML. After her death, I decided I wanted to work for a non-profit that was cancer related. Here I am at HFC and I can’t wait to help HFC grow and succeed so it can help more and more families!

Things I learned while visiting Kira at the hospital.
~ Laptops really do make a difference
~Crosswords puzzles and books are boring after a while
~Hanging coloring pictures on the wall is good thing to get people out of bed- Kira loved the Disney princesses (Cindarella)so I gave her crayons and a coloring book and her mom taped them on the wall so Kira would get out of bed and color
~Remembering milestones is huge, like birthdays and graduations!

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Welcome Christi!!

I'm bubbling over with excitement! Just a few more days and Heroes for Children grows by one new staff member! Please join me in welcoming Christi Disch as the new Special Events Coordinator of Heroes for Children!

Christi joins the HFC team on Monday ready to jump in to our planning process for all our fall events. No, we won't make her responsible for all the events right away, but we're SO looking forward to an extra pair of hands around here. She will work specifically on Hold'Em for Heroes and Heroes and Handbags Dallas and Houston, as well as assisting with the others.

Christi, known to our Houston group as "Christi the Intern" has been volunteering for us since January. She attended all meetings with the Core Team of Heroes and Handbags Houston to assist in the coordination of the inaugural event. A Rice senior looking for her out of college job, she contacted us last December. She found us and loved the mission of Heroes for Children, having her own personal experience with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (I'll leave that story to Christi). Her passion for working for nonprofit and her drive truly impressed and inspired us.

At the time, we had no position available, but we knew our rapid growth was going to leave us needing someone sooner than later. So, I struck a deal with her--volunteer with the Houston group for Heroes and Handbags and see how you like us (and us see how we liked her--we LOVED her instantly though!). My promise was that if it all worked out, we would have something to offer her by April, or she could go elsewhere in Dallas to let another nonprofit snatch her up. Then, I began planting the seeds to the board. By April, we had a position created and an offer ready. Three months later, we are anxiously awaiting her official start date here in the HFC office!

So, I ask you our blog followers, please welcome our new staff member! Leave her a comment to give her a warm welcome on her first job (and a giant congratulations for graduating from Rice University this May!)

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Charity begins at home

I believe that most parents want to raise their children to be compassionate, altruistic members of society. I also believe that many parents are at a loss as to how to ingrain and impart this attitude, particularly with today's frenetic and harried schedules and pace. We as adults may satisfy our wish to give back by donating money to our favorite nonprofits or boxing up outgrown toys for the local shelter, but young children can't exactly write a check (and often have trouble with the concept of giving away their toys!)

Furthermore, when it comes to the realm of pediatric cancer, I know many parents feel uncomfortable with the idea of exposing their children to the realities of seriously or terminally ill children. I have known people to say "I just don't want to have to explain a child dying" or "it just hits too close to home" and prefer to keep their own healthy children unaware and sheltered from the knowledge that their peers can, and do, become very, very sick little boys and girls.

I understand the ostrich instinct; it is overwhelming and devastating to put faces to the statistics, to care about individual children and grieve when they lose the battle. But for me, I view the fight against pediatric cancer as a golden opportunity to really teach my children what it means to be empathetic. I want them to understand that yes, children get very sick, and yes, children can and do die; I want them to learn, even at a tender age, that we have a responsibility to help those who need it - and that not everyone is as lucky as them to be healthy.

My children have known about pediatric cancer for 3 years now, since I did my first Light The Night walk in 2004 in honor of Allie Scott. They got to know a little boy who was fighting cancer, and knew when he lost his battle. It was a hard discussion to have with my two older boys - that this sweet baby boy who went trick or treating with them on Halloween and came and swam in the pool with them lost the fight, like Grandpa Joe (my Dad) who died of pancreatic cancer. They understand death, as much as any of us do, and I watched their eyes grow wide as they struggled to understand that this young and playful baby that they knew would no longer come over.

But they also met children who were and are beating the disease. While I inwardly cringed when my oldest son asked my colleague and friend's son (age 5), with a serious and concerned tone, if he was "going to die from the cancer", I also knew that this conversation, this openly concerned and interested dialogue, was ultimately a very good thing (and luckily my friend agreed). My children not only know that other children get cancer and sometimes die, they want to help. They want to make a difference.

So it was no surprise to me that, after seeing a lemonade stand by our community pool recently, my oldest son (age 7) came home with the idea to have his own lemonade stand, and the following conversation ensued:

Me: "Hey, maybe we can do a lemonade stand sometime this summer and you can raise money to bring to Dallas for the 5k walk in September."
Son: "That's a good idea"
Me: "Yeah, did you know my friend Miss Jenny's job is to help kids with cancer?"
Son: (his eyes big) "It is?"
Me: "Yup. She owns her very own business, and she raises money and then gives it to families who have kids with cancer"
Son: "Wow. Why does she care that much?"
Me: "well, do you remember Allie? Remember how mommy raised money to help kids with cancer, and there was that baby named Allie who died from cancer?"
Son: "yes! I remember her picture!" (from the team banner/t-shirts)
Me: "that was Miss Jenny's baby"
Son: (thinks for a minute) "Well she must care an awful lot then"
Me: "yes she does"
Son: "well I think we should help Miss Jenny! We need to help kids with cancer too!"

For me, that awareness and compassion that I am hopefully cultivating is worth the loss of their naivete and innocence that children are invincible, and can always be protected.

For more ideas on how to raise charitable children, see this article.