By Stephanie Turner Jul 9, 2017
Cancer doesn’t just impact adults and doesn’t just impact those inflicted with the condition.
The South Carolina organization The Children’s Security Blanket not only recognizes this reality but serves to help children coping with cancer and their families.
“The mission of The Children’s Security Blanket is to provide comprehensive support and loving compassion to families whose children are battling cancer to improve their overall quality of life,” the nonprofit’s website says. “The Children’s Security Blanket seeks solutions to assist families with unforeseen expenses associated with the diagnosis and treatment of childhood cancer by providing food, lodging and travel to families.”
Creating the organization
The nonprofit is based in Spartanburg and began in 2001 with the help of Aiken native Tom Russell, who currently serves as program assistant at 80 years old. Russell is now a Spartanburg resident.
“Tom returned from an international Optimist meeting where funds were committed for cancer research to a prominent cancer center, and Tom asked what can we do right here at home. Quickly they discovered there were children in jeopardy not just from cancer but the challenges of getting to treatment. The local Spartanburg Optimist Club became the sponsor of the security blanket project in 2001. Five years later, CSB incorporated and became its own 501(c) (3) nonprofit,” said Laura Allen, the organization’s executive director.
Russell has worked as the governor of the South Carolina Optimist Club, which is part of Optimist International. The international club’s flagship program supports children with cancer.
“The creation of CSB provided an avenue through which these families could receive the support they desperately need as they strive to ensure their child receives the best possible care,” Russell said. “My father was killed in a boating accident. … Growing up without a dad caused me to realize the true value of family life, and we kept this top of mind while developing CSB. These children are faced with many obstacles, and the family unit is entirely disrupted. The joy of making a difference in the lives of these families is paramount to my well being with the Lord.”
Within the course of 15 years, Russell and his colleagues assisted around 100 children in Spartanburg County.
“In the last year alone, 100 new children were welcomed into our program,” Allen said. “We don’t yet have a referral from Aiken County, but we know it’s just a matter of time. We do know that there are over 200 children a year diagnosed with cancer in South Carolina.”
What the organization does
The very name of the organization carries a literal and a symbolic meaning.
“When a child diagnosed with cancer became part of our family, we presented them with a carefully chosen blanket, so that they literally felt ‘wrapped in hope and love’ while undergoing treatment. This gesture became a custom that we still do today,” the organization’s website says.
Volunteers crochet the blankets.
“I am delighted to see our children’s faces when we give them,” Allen said. “However, the blanket is truly just a symbol, as our purpose is to (provide) access to care.”
The organization helps newborns to 18-year-olds. Once enrolled in the program, they can still participate until they are 21.
When a patient is led to Children’s Security Blanket, representatives from the organization meet the family to get more information about the situation.
“In addition to the practical and financial support, there is a social and emotional support. We connect our families so they can feel less alone on their cancer journey. We do this though our monthly family night, summer camp (Camp Victory), back-to-school event, Christmas gathering, each child’s birthday, newsletters for our families,” Allen said. “We have a network of social workers at the limited number of pediatric treatment centers. They help us identify children battling cancer at special risk due to distance and family financial limitations. We constantly interact with our network to assure that every child has access to care. We collaborate with the treatment centers to make certain that family needs are met.”
One of Russell’s experiences that stand out involves a girl who came to the program at the age of 5 in remission of leukemia.
“When this young girl was 12, we were having a back-to-school shopping party for our CSB children. She was bouncing around having a great time. The very next day, she went into full-blown leukemia and was taken (away) in critical condition,” Russell recalled. “The following Christmas, we had a Christmas party at a toy store, and this same child came to the store so weak that she could barely stand up. I watched as she filled her buggy to the rim with ‘Spider Man’ toys and accessories. I was perplexed because no 13-year-old girl I ever knew wanted ‘Spider Man’ stuff, so I began to question her. With zero hesitation and a big smile, she said, ‘I am taking this all home and giving it to my 5-year-old brother. He donated his bone marrow so I could live.’ This kind girl is now 23 and is impacting other young lives through teaching school.”
Russell hosted a special camp last month for Tron Foster, a teenager who has battled bone cancer since he was 6. Foster will have to miss the organization’s Camp Victory this year since he has to undergo surgery in August in Charleston.
“When Tom learned that Tron’s surgery would keep him from experiencing camp this year, he immediately came up with the idea of holding a special camp just for Tron and his sister. That’s the kind of person Tom is – he just loves the children we serve,” Allen said in a news release about the event.
Russell also recently received the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award from Wofford College.
Allen said needs of the nonprofit include gas cards, toothpaste, laundry detergent, shampoo and conditioners, baby wipes and monetary donations.
Stephanie Turner is the features reporter with the Aiken Standard, where she covers health topics, the arts, authors and restaurants. She graduated from Valdosta State University in 2012.