The sky is the limit
After complaining of stomach aches, Mark's parents took him to the emergency room where tests and surgery followed. It was then, October 2015, that Mark learned he had cancer. Two days later, he began an aggressive chemotherapy treatment protocol for Burkitt’s Lymphoma, a form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma that starts in the immune cells.
“It is every parent’s worst nightmare to learn their child has cancer,” Gwendolyn, Mark’s mother, shares. “There is a whirlwind of emotions you go through the strongest of which is the drive to battle this disease”.
Months later, in February 2016, Mark returned to school to complete the eighth grade with his classmates. Even after missing so many days in the classroom and enduring days spent at the hospital for treatment, Mark stayed the course.
He finished the year with all A’s and continued this feat during his ninth grade year -- earning all A’s for every marking period! Mark gives thanks to his teachers and tutors for the help they provided at the hospital while he was undergoing treatment.
Mark has always loved science and technology and his goal remains unchanged despite his cancer diagnosis and treatment: to attend the USAFA to study aeronautical engineering. He would like to fly F-35 Lightening II Planes as well as design future planes and spacecraft.
“I have loved planes and flying for as long as I can remember,” Mark says. “I took every toy plane and model apart to reengineer and streamline the design to see if I could get them to fly faster and further!”
Mark will be one step closer to his dream as he takes off this summer for NASA’s Space Camp in Huntsville, AL. Like most 15 year old teens, Mark is ready to step behind the wheel... his "wheel" just happens to be in the cockpit and he'll get that chance with NASA’s flight simulators.
Mark shows us that a cancer diagnosis does not mean the end of your dreams. His courageous determination to achieve his goals remains intact and we can tell that he's ready to launch into a bright future! It's also what has made him such a great inspiration as a 2016 ASK Kourageous Kid.
ASK kids Grace, Mason and Hugo are all smiles with online tutoring at the Fredericksburg Afterschool Program.
Trilogy Mentors is helping to make the grade
Missed school days and cognitive late effects from treatment mean that our ASK kids often need to work harder than their peers to keep up and are at risk of not moving to the next grade level with their peers. That’s why one of ASK’s key focus areas is education.
This spring, ASK launched a pilot program to address this need with area start-up Trilogy Mentors. Trilogy was founded by recent University of Richmond graduate, John Failla. His goal was to create an online tutoring program that would be accessible to all students, not just those with financial resources. He considers his tutors to be mentors because they are encouraged to develop supportive relationships with their students.
“Our purpose is to empower students when it matters most, turning their most challenging moments into breakthroughs. Our personalized online learning platform supports students of any background, wherever they are” says John.
The pilot program was developed to supplement the educational assistance that our patients and survivors are getting in ASK’s afterschool program. It is also a resource to help ASK kids in outlying communities that can’t reach one of our afterschool enrichment program sites on a regular basis. The results from the first six-week session are in and it was a resounding success.
Within the first 3 weeks, the pilot nearly doubled in size from the initial 6 students to 11 students. In addition to increasing student engagement for ASK, Trilogy was able to increase the parental engagement as well.
“The best thing about this program is, it caters to their individual levels and academic needs. It also give an opportunity for the kids on how to use long distance learning skills” says ASK parents Gaurang and Jigna Dave.
While academic improvement was the main focus, we have seen the students’ confidence and willingness to learn also increase which is why we're looking forward to continuing this partnership in the coming year. None of this would be possible though without our donors and sponsors who generously give to ensure all of our ASK kids have the educational support they need for thriving after cancer,
Summer Camp Love
Meet ASK kid Molly, one of our 2016 Kourageous Kids.
Molly has Beta Thalassemia Major, a blood disorder that reduces the production of hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is the iron-containing protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen to the cells throughout the body.
Molly is transfusion-dependent and will receive a blood transfusion every three weeks for the rest of her life. Since kids with serious blood disorders are treated in the ASK Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Clinic, they are also included in ASK’s programs.
That’s just one thing to know about Molly. What’s more important to know about her is that she’s a sweet, funny girl who likes dancing, music and dolls. She especially loves anything American Girl.
We first met Molly at last year's summer camp where she decorated cupcakes, played handbells, and enjoyed games with other kids from clinic. Her mom shares that Molly loves going to ASK’s summer enrichment camp and seeing her friends Sylvia and Josh.
Pictured above: Molly decorating cupcakes with Sylvia, camp helper.
ASK summer camp is a chance for so many of our kids in similar situations to have a place where everyone understands because everyone lives the experience... and, it's fun! Who doesn't love cupcakes??
Camp is also important for the parents. It's an opportunity for them to have a safe place for their child to go during the day. Since the financial burden for many of our families who have a child with ongoing health problems is often heavy, ASK’s camp is provided for free.
Donations are necessary though for paying for teachers, special activities and purchasing supplies. If you'd like to help us host our three weeks of summer camp for 2017, please consider making a donation using the link below.
We can't wait to see Molly's big smile at this year's camp! We'd love for you to stop by and see her smile, too. Email Britt Nelson to learn more and to set up a visit.
There are no "do-overs"
This month we'd like to introduce you to ASK kid Jack, one of our 2016 Kourageous Kids.
Between too many missed days of school and not getting to enjoy play dates with friends, Jack's childhood is not average but it's one that other ASK kids can relate to. We were happy to hear from Jack's mom, Stephanie, who shares that he is starting to get his childhood back:
Jack has just started his second year of treatment of a three year therapy for Lymphoblastic Lymphoma of his kidneys. While he as has endured a grueling year of chemotherapy, his positive attitude and perseverance have been an inspiration to his family and friends.
These days he's feeling great, full of energy and excited to be transitioning back to school after being out the past year.
Jack loves ASK and just about every activity they offer, but he truly enjoyed the enrichment camp this summer- the first event he as able to attend after diagnosis that allowed him to do something exciting and normal.
We are excited to be gearing up for our second ASK 5K and formulating a bigger Team Jack!
Even though cancer has deprived Jack of so many typical childhood experiences, ASK makes sure all of our kids have great memories in the midst of their treatment. Click the button below to read about our patient programs and how you can help.
February's Kindness Ambassadors
Last month we celebrated kindness with our #FightCancerWithKindness campaign. Over those 28 days (and actually on in to March) we were overwhelmed by the generosity of our community. So many stepped up to be Kindness Ambassadors and took time out of their busy schedules to make a difference in the lives of our ASK kids.
Two year old ASK kid Olivia taught us that you’re never too young to show kindness to others. She used her Christmas money to buy toys for the treasure chest.
Mayor Levar Stoney taught us that you’re never too busy to fight cancer with kindness... and that donuts can help. We were super impressed that he made time during his first few weeks in office to visit our clinic. This was the first time that a Richmond mayor has visited in over ten years!
Media news personalities Nikki-Dee Ray (WTVR) gave a weather lesson to our ASK First STEP preschoolers while Morgan Dean (WRIC) celebrated Dr. Seuss' birthday by reading in clinic.
Our ambassadors showed us that you can use any skill set to make a difference. The very talented ladies from the James River Heritage Quilters used their skills to make a beautiful quilt for our upcoming auction.
Ten year old ASK kid Reese shared her love of drawing by creating an art cart for our clinic while ASK kid Savanna collected board games to help pass the time.
By celebrating kindness in February, it reminded us that kindness truly goes a long way toward making life a little better for our young patients and their families. As they say, kindness never goes out of style so there’s always an opportunity to help create some smiles and make an impact with ASK. Here are a few options coming up where you can help:
Run, walk or volunteer at the ASK 5K & Fun Walk
Hold a Snack Drive or Donate Toys to Clinic
Make a donation to support ASK summer camp
Host a social event for our ASK kids and families
Zinnia finds fun and learning
Meet Zinnia. She’s three years old and she loves circle time and playing with her friends at ASK’s First STEP (Socialization Through Enriched Play) preschool program.
First STEP is one of only two preschool programs in the country specifically designed for young patients, survivors and their siblings. The program is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, which wouldn't be possible without the partnership support of First Baptist Preschool, who is also celebrating its 70th anniversary.
Zinnia’s brother, Wilson, went through cancer treatment for Stage 3 Neuroblastoma at age three. He attended First Step after finishing treatment and is now a third-grade honor roll student who loves to read.
“The preschool teachers are wonderful caregivers and [make] positive impacts on the children,” says their mom, Sarah. “Wilson and Zinnia both enjoy weekly ASK activities that help them to become confident, outgoing and caring individuals.”
Teachers Ellen Kittrell and Jane Gordon help to make the program a safe environment so children with cancer (and their parents) can have some normalcy in having a place to go outside of clinic.
"I have been a preschool teacher at First Baptist Preschool for 23 years and feel so privileged to be a part of the First Step program,” Ellen says. “We provide a unique preschool class for children with cancer and serious blood disorders with emphasis on socialization that is so lacking during treatment. While we focus on each child's individual needs, we provide a specialized program in a fun and nurturing environment.”
Our families don't have to worry when they're at First STEP. In addition to have having teachers who understand what a child with cancer has been through, the program is free. Our hearts are full this Valentine's Day thanks to our generous donors who are helping to make life better for children with cancer in our community!
Pictured below, Ms. Ellen mixes up fun with learning as the preschoolers make artificial snow.
Volunteer Spotlight: Elizabeth Taylor
"I have volunteered for many organizations over the years and what has surprised me about ASK is that I wish I could do more. Not just the event where I am volunteering," shares Elizabeth Taylor, ASK volunteer. "I want to give as much time and energy as I can. I want to help as often as I can. I feel strongly tied to the organization even though I only spend a few days there a year."
Elizabeth has been a loyal volunteer for ASK's fundraising and program events. She has been behind the scenes for 10 years making sure registrations go smoothly at the ASK 5K & Fun Walk, Dunkin' Donuts Munchkins Run and the ASK Gala and that ASK kids and families have a good time at the annual holiday party.
"She’s the calm, smiling face in the middle of the chaos that so often comes with special events. She shows up early and stays late to make sure it all gets done and we can always count on her," says Amy Godkin, Executive Director.
Elizabeth doesn't look for recognition but rather where she can be most helpful. For her, it's all about the kids.
"I love seeing the faces of the kids as they see all the events are for them and that they are a part of them," Elizabeth notes. "ASK is an organization where everything goes back to the kids. The gala has items the kids painted as centerpieces. The walk has a Kourageous Kids lap to put a focus on the kids. There are events all the time just for the kids."
It's pretty easy to see why we think Elizabeth is a star volunteer. Such a star, that we recognized her dedication with the 2016 Payson Jones Outstanding Volunteer Award. Thank you, Elizabeth, for your kind support and helping hand!
You can be a Kindness Ambassador
During the month of February, ASK will be showcasing the every day kindness of members in our community for local children with cancer... members like you!
Here are a few ways you can show kindness to help to make life better for children with cancer:
Inspire others by sharing your kindness on social media using #FightCancerWithKindness -- you'll also be helping to raise awareness about ASK's programs providing financial, educational and emotional support. For that, we are grateful!
To read how others are #FightingCancerWithKindness, check out the ASK Facebook page for daily stories.
Feel free to contact us with any questions or ideas for how you'd like to join ASK as a Kindness Ambassador.
ASK kid Michaela is back on her feet
Meet ASK kid Michaela. She was just twenty months old when she was diagnosed with Wilm's tumor. She endured surgery to remove her left kidney and six months of chemotherapy.
Today, she is a happy, healthy ten year old who loves to cheer, dance, sing, and play piano. She is also quite active in Girl Scouts.
For most kids with cancer, remission doesn't mean jumping right back into a healthy, normal life. Chemotherapy can wear a body down. Kids can experience weight loss, weakened muscles, and low self-esteem.
That's where ASK's Moving Forward partnership program with the YMCA of Greater Richmond steps in.
"My favorite part of Moving Forward is lifting weights," shares Michaela as she picks up the battle ropes to pound out a few reps at the John Rolfe YMCA.
Michaela is one of fifteen kids who is participating in the Moving Forward program this year. Thanks to your support, each child receives a year of personal training along with a YMCA membership for their family.
"The Moving Forward program is wonderful," says Michaela's mom, Marna. "It has assisted Michaela by improving her stamina and endurance. She also feels a sense of accomplishment after completing her work-outs."
Your gifts are making a difference. You are helping kids like Michaela to get back on their feet and active again after cancer. Thank you!
Volunteer Spotlight: Kristen Salmon
“My first memory of ASK was at Christmas,” shared Kristen Salmon, mom to ASK kid Jamy who was diagnosed with Wilms Turmor when he was 6 months old. His tumor was the size of a softball and his left kidney had to be removed.
“We had been so overwhelmed with Jamy and Malcolm [twins] and treatment, that we didn't even think Christmas. Then, we were told to meet someone from ASK at a location and our car was literally filled with presents for our babies! I know I cried thankful tears when we got them.”
Kristen decided in fall 2015 that she wanted to help make life better for other kids and families as a volunteer for ASK. She helps to put away snacks, prep for major fundraisers, inventory gift cards and shop for the Welcome Home program.
In getting the inside scoop of the day-to-day operations of ASK, Kristen explains, “I had no idea the amount of services available to ASK kids… I wish people knew that ASK is a local foundation and every dime goes toward the tiniest things as well as huge room remodels!”
This past holiday season, Kristen stayed extra busy sorting toy donations and using her creative talents to make personalized ASK bears for each of ASK's First STEP preschoolers, which includes her daughter, Allison.
“As a volunteer for ASK, it is amazing what a small group can make happen,” Kristen explains.
So very true, considering ASK was formed and led by volunteers for its first 30 years. Volunteers are still our backbone and we always welcome a helping hand to help support our ASK kids and families.