Tell us a little about yourselves and your organization.
When our 3-year old daughter, Charlotte Jennie (CJ) was diagnosed with a brain tumor in January of 2009, our entire world was shattered. One of the few things that sustained us during her year-long battle was the support we received from the community. After her death, in 2010, we wanted to give back in a meaningful way. That was the origin of CJ’s Thumbs Up Foundation (CJSTUF). Rachel currently serves as the Executive Director and Roger as the Director of Development.
Founding CJSTUF was a functional way for us to honor our daughter, by providing assistance to families of children with chronic and life threatening illnesses. Although most of the families we serve have children battling cancer, we also serve families facing other challenges like cystic fibrosis, renal disease, sickle cell anemia, and other diseases that require chronic care and frequent hospitalizations.
Since our founding, we have provided over one hundreed $500 unrestricted financial assistance grants to families. We also offer a Meal Fairies program, part of which includes the Lunch Bunch, a collaborative effort with Connor’s Heroes. Lunch Bunch provides healthy meals to caregivers on the pediatric floor at the Children’s Hospital of Richmond once a week. Each week we feed between 70-100 people.
What do you find most rewarding and what’s coming up?
Every time we are able to help another family, we feel that it honors CJ and the positive spirit that she brought to this world. We deeply appreciate the messages we receive from families who benefit from CJSTUF and you quickly realize these acts of kindness, big or small, help these families know they are not alone in their challenges. Someone cares and is willing to help.
CJSTUF has achieved more in three short years than we could ever have imagined. A $10,000 grant from the Deep Run Marathon Dance allowed us to move forward as an organization. And by 2014, we will expand our geographic reach to UVA Health System in Charlottesville.
We’re also really excited for our next big event, CJ the DJ’s Bluegrass (Mostly) Boogaloo on July 20th. With Roger’s background in music and his work at WHAN radio, a musical fundraising event has been on the “wish list” ever since our founding. We are partnering with Ashland Coffee and Tea and hope to make it an annual event!
What are some lessons you’ve learned and how do you make it work?
Since our founding, we have always been very conscious of both mission creep and slow, sustainable growth. There are many things that the families we serve need but it is important to remember our primary goal so that we don’t lose our focus. Our board has been helpful in keeping us on track.
As well, in addition to our work with the foundation, each of us has a “day job” so it is important for us to stay focused and balanced. Since we live and work together, it can be easy for a date night to turn into a CJSTUF planning meeting. Our best vacations are the ones where we can get away from email and social media to recharge.