HOW DID CHILDREN’S CANCER PARTNERS GET STARTED?
In 2001, along with other members of the Spartanburg Optimist International Club, Tom Russell responded to that organization’s nationwide commitment to fund childhood cancer research, asking “what can we do to help locally?” Quickly they discovered how very few places treat childhood cancer, and what a struggle it is for families to get their children to pediatric oncology care. South Carolina has only three treatment locations, North Carolina only six.
Soon they were helping a family get their child to M.D. Anderson Cancer Center for specialized care not available in the South. And then another with the burdensome costs of repeated travel to Greenville and Charleston. And another, and another – the need they discovered was enormous.
They called their service The Children’s Security Blanket (CSB) Project. In 2003, they had a board of directors, a modest budget, and a corporation was formed. In 2005, the Internal Revenue Service conferred 501(c)(3) public charity status on their work. It was very personal – every child was given a handmade blanket, symbolic of being “wrapped in hope and love.” As the years passed, “Mr. Tom” became the face of CSB and many tender relationships were formed. By 2015, CSB had helped 100 Spartanburg County children get to lifesaving treatment. Then, something truly extraordinary happened!
HOW DID IT GROW SO BIG?
It’s the story of a beautiful young girl. Her name was Rachel, a good student, promising athlete and oh so popular for her smiling way. Cancer showed up, but so did Rachel’s courage as she battled back. Osteosarcoma claimed her leg, but not her spirit, and as traces appeared elsewhere, CSB helped her get to M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston for a second opinion. Meanwhile, Rachel smiled on, brightening the day for those who thought they had come to cheer her up!
In early December of 2015, Rachel’s worried dad asked for our help. Rachel was in the hospital again, this time in New York City, and she would remain there awaiting surgeries for lung tumors during Christmas week. We were asked if we could help give his family the opportunity to be together with Rachel for Christmas.
Of course we said “yes!” but with only a few thousand dollars in the checkbook and other families in need – how? After dozens of phone calls, a Facebook post from Executive Director Laura Allen reached an old friend in New York, who offered a solution. An executive apartment in midtown Manhattan was available perhaps – “please call this number,” he said. The phone call was made, a lovely two-bedroom apartment offered, right in midtown near the hospital.
As details were shared of Rachel’s courageous cancer battle, her family’s devotion, and the little charity that helped them on their journey, others in New York who heard the stories became friends. They decorated the apartment, put up a Christmas tree, made ornaments with each family member’s name, and delivered Christmas dinner!
The family reunion was heart-wrenching. Doctors would only allow Rachel to leave hospital care for 7 hours – and those 7 hours were a precious gift, as Rachel’s mom, dad, sisters and brother will tell you, proudly.
The benefactors who provided the apartment were touched. Within days, they sent a check to CSB that was equal to just about the organization’s entire annual budget!
CSB’s part-time Executive Director Laura Allen wondered how best to thank these extraordinary anonymous benefactors. Politely, she earned their permission for a personal visit. This provided Laura an opportunity to explain the impact of their gifts. In turn, the gracious couple, who actually are not even from the Carolinas, told how impressed they were to see the very personal way that Laura and CSB went about helping Rachel’s family to be with her in such a difficult time.“You’re doing God’s work,” they said, and then presented an amazing challenge:
“What would you do,” they asked, “if we gave you a much larger gift…each year?” Having imagined a hundred “what ifs” in preparing for the visit, Laura responded swiftly. “We would help a lot more children,” she said,” as long as we knew you would do this for a period of years, so we don’t make promises we can’t fulfill.”
A plan of action was promised, and soon delivered. The couple liked it very much, and pledged their support for a period of years so the organization could expand systematically, and grow its own fundraising for the day when it could be fully self-supporting. Their only “requirements” were: “Keep it simple, do not become bureaucratic, and do the very best you can for these children and their families.”
NEW NAME: SAME MISSION
Even as the expansion began, the CSB Board recognized the organization faced an identity issue: not even well known in the only county it served, the name Children’s Security Blanket did not clearly communicate the agency’s much larger audience and mission. Thus, volunteer and staff leaders initiated a rebranding process which resulted in the selection of the name Children’s Cancer Partners of the Carolinas (CCP) and the tagline “Supporting Families Through the Journey.”
The new identity expresses more clearly CCP’s service to the entire Carolinas, and its continuing mission to provide comprehensive support and loving compassion to families whose children are fighting cancer in an effort to improve their overall quality of life. The new name accurately relays the relationship between CCP and each of the families served – a true partnership with families through every step of the childhood cancer journey. The hope and love offered to struggling families is also vividly depicted in the new logo.
WIDENING OUR CIRCLE OF COMPASSION
CCP’s assistance to families was extended gradually to surrounding counties, then the Upstate region of South Carolina, then a 100 mile radius that included Asheville and Charlotte, then all of South Carolina, and then in November of 2017, all of North Carolina.
Since the late spring of 2016, CCP grew from one county to 147, from serving 20 children to partnering with over 850 families in 2019. With every new child and family enrolled, the promise remains the same – we will walk beside you throughout your journey, until your child turns 21, and with the same personal attention that has been our hallmark. We continue to provide funds for food, lodging and meals associated with cancer treatment, as well as compassion and support. And in every welcoming visit, we continue to wrap the child in a blanket that symbolizes our hope and love.