Tales of 3 families fundraising for their children's health

By Lisa Kadane on April 23, 2013
There’s no barrier to what we’ll do to help our children succeed. That can mean anything from medical therapies to extra help reading. In any case, parents are the best advocates, cheerleaders and fundraisers for their kids, and there are lots of us out there soliciting money for hockey teams, new school playgrounds and medical research. According to Charitable Giving by Canadians, a report based on results from the 2010 Canada Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating, almost all charities and non-profi t organizations rely on individual donations to fulfi ll their mission, and most people donate to causes that are meaningful to them. Meet three Canadian families whose child’s diagnosis prompted them to take up a cause.

Parents: Lisa Kadane and Blake Ford
Climbing Kili for a Cause
Total raised:
$7,595 for Renfrew Educational Services that will go toward specialized services, equipment and toys for children attending their son’s special needs school

English mountaineer George Mallory was once asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest. He famously replied, “Because it’s there.” My answer to a similar question – “Why do you want to climb Mount Kilimanjaro?” – was much more complex.

Ascending to the highest point in Africa was certainly a bucket-list item for my husband and me (we’re both travellers at heart), but when our son Bennett was diagnosed with autism and a genetic condition called 18q- (the culprit behind his developmental delays), we suddenly had a much more compelling reason to fl y half way around the world to Tanzania.

We decided to raise money for his integrated special needs preschool, Renfrew Educational Services, where Bennett has made incredible progress with his communication, fi ne motor, gross motor, play and social skills. We wanted to give back to an organization that has made such a difference in our daily lives.

Jacquie McKechnie, manager of marketing and communications for Renfrew, says the school needs parental fundraising to deliver specialized equipment, and even toys and books. “Every little bit helps,” she says.

Still, more than once as I plodded upward on that star-fi lled night and sucked the thin air into my lungs, I asked myself, “Why am I doing this again?” Climbing more than 4,000 feet in six hours to reach Kili’s 19,340 foot summit at sunrise seemed a Herculean effort at times, but I would bring my focus back to Bennett and remember it was for a good cause.

We reached the top at 6:15 a.m. on September 21, 2012, and proudly held up a Renfrew banner in front of a spectacular view. We had succeeded, physically and mentally, but more importantly we surpassed our rather modest fundraising goal ($5,895, or $1 for every metre of the mountain), earning more than $7,500.

It was our first time fundraising on a large scale and we were overwhelmed by people’s generosity as friends, family, strangers and one company donated money to benefit our son, his school and other kids with special needs.

Parents: Heather and Ron Miller
Campaign: Telus Walk to Cure Diabetes
Total raised: $97,000 over four years for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), whose goal is to find a cure for Type 1 diabetes

The December after Beth Miller was diagnosed with Type I diabetes her mother asked her what she wanted for Christmas. “She just looked at me like I was insane,” recalls Heather. “She said, ‘I just want Santa to bring me a cure.’” Beth was six.

More than three years later Heather is trying to deliver that miracle gift to her daughter, now nine, through her involvement with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

“It’s at the point where I feel that there’s a lot of optimism in the fi eld, so it’s exciting to be a part of it. It gives me hope. It feels like a cure could actually happen in her lifetime and Beth totally deserves that,” says Heather.

For the past four years the family has participated in the Telus Walk to Cure Diabetes, recruiting other families from their closeknit Calgary neighbourhood to fundraise and walk with them. They have raised nearly $100,000 during that time.

“The first year there were two families that came out and joined us and this year we had 75 people on our walk team. It was incredible,” she says. In addition to the walk, Beth and her two older brothers ask for money for JDRF donations in lieu of birthday gifts.

Beth skis competitively and is healthy and as active as any other Grade 4 student, except she still has “down days” because of the chronic disease; days when she’s tired of poking her fi nger before and after gym every day (to monitor her blood sugar level), or bummed about being a little bit slower than everyone else getting stuff done. It’s those times that Heather steels her resolve to keep fundraising.

“It wears you down. You don’t ever get a break from it. Those are the days I feel more strongly about staying involved and doing everything I can.”

Parents: Karen and Dan Whitfield
Campaign: 46 Mommas Shave for the Brave
Total raised: $30,000 for Childhood Cancer Canada

Lance Whitfield was diagnosed with bone cancer of the lower jaw when he was just 23 months old. For Karen and Dan Whitfi eld and their four sons, life would never be the same. The long battle began, with chemotherapy and radiation, followed by scans and bloodwork every 12 weeks.

Lance’s story has a happy ending. Now five, he has been cancer-free for more than three years, but it exposes a sad reality. About 1,500 new cases are diagnosed each year across the country, according to Childhood Cancer Canada, so it’s hardly rare, but there’s very little awareness about the disease and its many forms, says Karen. After Lance’s recovery Karen and Dan turned their attention to another fight: getting the word out about childhood cancer and raising money for research.

“The more research we did, the more we realized how little funding goes to childhood cancer research,” says Karen. “The only thing that we have to be hopeful for is the research. We’re also trying to push for better treatments that aren’t as hard on the kids.”

Karen signed on to be one of 46 Mommas (and one of only three Canadian moms) who shaved their heads in Los Angeles last July for a fundraiser to benefi t Childhood Cancer Canada in partnership with St. Baldrick’s, an American foundation committed to funding childhood cancer research. As for losing her lovely head of shoulderlength hair? “I didn’t care at all,” says Karen. “We have a choice. Kids with cancer don’t.”

In the end her hairrazing experience brought in $30,000, the most of any participant. She credits the small community in Killarney, Man. with her fundraising success. Many local businesses and friends, family and community members donated because they knew Lance and they knew his story. “There was a personal connection there,” says Karen. “My next goal is to try to reach out farther.”

Lisa Kadane is a Calgary-based feature writer and mother of two. Read more about her parenting and travel adventures at www.lisakadane.com.

By Lisa Kadane| April 23, 2013

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