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Local kids support a worthy cause

Sep 18, 2017 11:50AM

Zara Jackson drops off her first donation to The Gathering Place's CEO, Eileen Saffran.

By Stacy Turner

According to the National Cancer Institute, approximately 39.6% of men and women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point during their lifetimes.  In 2014, an estimated 15,780 children and adolescents from babies to age 19 were diagnosed with cancer.  But thanks to increased screenings and early diagnosis, the overall cancer death rate has declined in the United States since the early 1990s.

If you or someone you love has been touched by cancer, chances are you’ve benefited from the support found at The Gathering Place (TGP), a nonprofit, community-based cancer support center headquartered in Beachwood.  Since it opened its doors in 2000, The Gathering Place has served over 37,290 individuals with cancer, their families and friends throughout Cuyahoga, Lake, Geauga and surrounding counties.  TGP offers programs and services at no charge to individuals with cancer, as well as their family and friends.

When 9-year-old Zara Jackson visited TGP with her Girl Scout troop earlier this year, everything they offered impressed her.  Zara’s mother, Ricia Weiner, shared, “Zara came home and talked specifically about the programs they offer for patients and their families.  The programs for children really made a big impact on her.”  Zara’s troop visited TGP to donate 100 boxes of cookies and received a tour of the operation.

“Zara was extremely moved after she saw our special wall of donors,” explained TGP's community liaison Simone Swanson.  “She went home and told her mom that she was going to be the youngest person on the wall to donate $5,000.”

That’s a huge goal for someone so young, but her parents wholeheartedly support her dream. Weiner explained, “If we put limits on our kids, we’ll limit the amazing things they can do.”

“I love this place!” Zara beamed.  “I really like what they do to help people with cancer and their families -- and that everything is free.  I like what they do for kids, so I want to make sure they have everything they need.”

Weiner describes her daughter as an incredible student who reads a lot.  “Zara gets things done!” she marveled.  “She’s compassionate about people’s plight around the world, so this goal seems like a natural progression for her.  Our hearts are bursting with pride.”

To raise funds, Zara has hosted movie nights and an ice cream social and has sold toys at a garage sale.  This determined girl has already raised over $500 since she set her goal in June, and has another movie night coming up soon.  In addition, Zara and her mom, a spin teacher, are planning a special spin class to raise additional funds.  Zara and her dad plan to host a benefit concert with her father’s band, as well.  Zara has set her sights on raising $5,000 by next June.

“There are hundreds of people and companies who grace our donor walls,” shared Kristina Austin, chief marketing officer at The Gathering Place.  “Zara would be the first person under 18 who made or helped generate a donation of $5,000.”

Just like Zara’s family, TGP encourages family participation by providing age-appropriate support groups, educational programs, and social activities for children and teens who have a loved one with cancer, and specialized caring staff to help families every step of the way.

Each year, over 350 volunteers donate more than 10,000 hours to support TGP’s mission.  One such volunteer is 17-year-old Kyle Flatow from Pepper Pike.  Kyle has served as a volunteer since 2015, serving three summers in a row with TGP’s Animal Camp.  This summer experience is a special time set aside for children who have had to grow up too fast -- those touched by cancer. In spite of this fact, these kids get the opportunity to play and be typical kids, interacting with horses at local therapeutic riding centers, encountering wild animals with the Cleveland Natural History Museum, and cuddling with kittens at a local animal rescue organization.  Kyle has been returning each year to help campers have fun, learn about animals, and meet kids in similar circumstances.

TGP offers cancer-specific programs and symposiums for patients, as well as workshops for kids and teens with family members dealing with cancer. They provide classes in yoga, Tai Chi, and reflexology to help combat cancer-related fatigue and other treatment side effects. Massage or hands-on cooking classes help relieve stress and improve nutrition.  In addition, they provide support groups to help people cope with the emotional impact of cancer.

If you’re wondering how people can raise funds for this worthy organization, you can follow Kyle’s example and become a volunteer. Or maybe, like 11-year-old Emerson from Chagrin Falls, you can include a Gathering Place wish list with your birthday party invitations, letting friends and family celebrate your birthday by giving gifts like art supplies and donations to support TGP’s many programs for children.

Maybe you’re motivated, like Zara, to raise money through a movie night or ice cream social for your friends or classmates.  From bake sales and lemonade stands, to activities like bike-a-thons or fashion shows -- any of your passions can generate interest and support for this charity that helps so many.

The Gathering Place funding comes from individuals, families, organizations, foundations and corporations.  TGP is a 501(c)3 tax-exempt charitable organization. 

For more information, visit touchedbycancer.org.

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