Mobilizing the Mission
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” - Margaret Mead
When we started this foundation 15 years ago we embarked on a humble mission to put FUN on the calendars of one family LIVING with breast cancer in Cincinnati. In our first year, we did just that. As the years followed, a growing group of friends and happy strangers grew. They are the ones who put momentum behind our vision to provide FUN to ALL women LIVING with breast cancer. In our 15th year, we have now given over 1400 gifts of FUN to women all over America. That milestone was accomplished coast to coast alongside our KWF Chapters.
If it wasn’t for our Chapters, we would not have had the opportunity to mobilize this mission across the nation. KWF currently has 9 Chapters and four budding ambassador cities that too are on their way to cultivating our vision within their own communities. From Wooster, Ohio to Sunny South Florida, New England, and Denver our chapter leads are devoted to getting FUN on the calendars of women in their hometowns. Whether they are hosting local fundraisers or spreading mission awareness, their focus remains: to nominate and deliver gifts! Our chapters are an integral & essential part of KWF's overall growth & expansion.
South Florida Chapter Lead, Tyler Smillie has a deep connection to our mission. Tyler lost his mother, Kathi to breast cancer in 2001. When he heard about KWF through a coworker he saw an opportunity to honor his mom and build out a chapter in his hometown of Jupiter, Florida + the surrounding communities. “My most memorable KWF recipient was Heidi Dennis, who is no longer with us. She was a beam of light in the community and a true warrior during her battle with breast cancer. I remember visiting her during her screens at Sylvester Cancer Center and I coordinated with her family to surprise her with a trip to Sedona where they went hot air ballooning over the desert!”, Tyler recalls.
Cleveland Chapter Chair, Amy McDonald resonates with the mission simply because she believes in the importance of slowing down her personal race to help those who need it most. Amy & her husband Brian started KWF Cleveland in 2015 and have since championed the cause. When chatting with Amy she mentions that “the memory of Karen and what KWF does for women living with breast cancer was our inspiration! Our mission is really to give more women in the Cleveland area some much-deserved FUN! It's truly an amazing feeling that fills you with so much happiness when you can surprise someone LIVING with BC with a vacation, spa day, or some kind of FUN!”
When prompting New England Chapter Chair, Debbie Hart-Klein on her WHY, she touches on the recipient experience. “I love that we help bring some lightness and smiles to the lives of women and their families going through difficult times. I love meeting so many wonderful women. I love that my involvement pays tribute to my own mother...,” notes Debbie. Like Tyler, Debbie also lost her mother to cancer furthering her motive for starting a chapter of her own. And since the start in 2017 Debbie & her team have given away 31 gifts to deserving recipients in the New England area.
In closing, Debbie notes the significance of the mutually beneficial mission she has come to know and love. “Recipients are always so grateful, but I feel grateful to them. I am grateful to be able to be part of their lives if even just for a brief time and grateful to be part of making a positive difference. We do this to help others…but they help me as much as the other way around," she adds.
Everyone has a story and a WHY themselves. Maybe you too have wanted to mobilize the KWF mission in your neck of the woods or simply want to inject some positivity back into your community. Whatever your calling may be, we invite you into our growing KWF Family.
Wendy Wise Haskell
Irene & Ted Adams
Amy & Brian McDonald
San Francisco, CA
Summer is a time to celebrate. It means clearing the schedules to take that trip you've been looking forward to for months. It’s pool days, summer camps for the kids and a season that demands a bit less from us than the rest. Although, for those LIVING with cancer, summers can feel much different. They are oftentimes packed with relentless treatment and chemo schedules as childcare becomes harder to come by. Not to mention the mounting medical bills and never-ending calls to insurance companies. Cancer is canceled plans while feeling lousy, accompanied by the looming mental burden of an ongoing diagnosis.
This summer we want to change that and need your help to do so. You see, my mom, Karen Wellington, loved summer. She tried her best to pack these 4 months with as much FUN for her family as possible. But even she needed help from friends and happy strangers alike who took the pressure off. There were days when she relied on others to take care of curating that FUN. As we celebrate 15 years of KWF this July, we ask you to look inward and take time to reflect on countless families LIVING with cancer whose summers look far different than yours.
While you’re out on the lake or lounging by the pool enjoying some family time this summer, we implore you to think about the women and families this mission serves. Think about the single mom of 3 in the chemo chair down the street who has never been on vacation. Or the couple whose wedding budget is now being used to pay off medical bills due to an escalating diagnosis. Or maybe that family who is barely keeping their head above water due to a consistent barrage of bad news. These are the stories of our community that oftentimes go unnoticed. These are the narratives of our KWF recipients.
We asked a few of our generous donors why they believe it is important to slow down and give. This year we have honed in on ‘in-kind gifts’ which allows our supporters to capitalize on experiential giving. When asked why she gives, KWF donor, Molly Stewart notes, “We’ve been amazed to see the beginning of KWF and the incredible growth through the years. When we had tickets for Billy Joel and Frozen, KWF was the first place we thought of. The warm thank you notes we received from the recipients made it abundantly clear how KWF truly lifts up recipients and their families.”
Just as the Stewart family feels compelled to give gifts of FUN, others like Dr. Victor Nicolas have vacation homes they don’t use 52 weeks out of the year. Not only do ‘Dr.Vic’ and his wife, Rita generously donate their Maui home multiple times a year, but they also go the extra mile with our recipients & their families. They connect our recipients to nearby restaurants and local excursions on the island. When asked about why he gives, Dr.Vic told us that “Very few people get the concept that happiness does not come from getting, it comes from giving and it’s even better if you can give at a personal level. If you can know a real person and their real struggles and their real concerns and make their life a little easier. Even if it’s just for a week or two...it gives me a great amount of personal happiness.”
That’s it, isn’t it? The cliched sentiment that ‘through giving we receive’ somehow seems to consistently ring true no matter the circumstance. And with a mission like ours, the impact is not only immediate but transparent. Your gifts go directly to sending that single mom and her kids on their very first vacation. They allow the couple who had to put off their wedding the opportunity to experience the honeymoon of their dreams. And your donations help that family burdened by bad news to take the night off, leave cancer in the rearview and make some memories.
As a society, we are oftentimes inundated with cautionary tales as to why we should save every penny for ourselves furthering generational wealth for years to come. Although we believe in financial wellness, one of our donors has a slightly different perspective when it comes to giving. Lauren Shafer has been generously donating to our mission for over 10 years and when prompted why she gives Lauren noted, “Money is just paper when it sits in the bank and I would rather have it helping people NOW. I realize Grace has to put the fun together but contributing money is easy to do and it can make such an immediate difference. My motto is never to wait. Don’t wait to travel. Don’t wait to tell someone you love them. Don't wait to live life. Don’t wait to give….We can’t control cancer, but we can control giving.”
As you slow down this summer, we encourage you to set aside time to reflect on your WHY. Maybe you give out of abundance? Or possibly you see yourself in many of these women recounting that you too have stood where they now stand. Whatever your reason, your gift is a pivotal part of the life change that takes place when you choose to bring FUN back into this season for countless women and families LIVING with cancer.
June is National Cancer Survivorship Month! It is a time where we celebrate the survivors who make up our KWF community. June is a month to reflect on those currently LIVING with cancer, those in remission as well as those who continue LIVING ON through our shared vision. Not only does KWF provide FUN, but we also provide community through a growing sisterhood rooted in survivorship. Read on below to hear from our friend & KWF recipient, Autumn McKinley as she discusses what this month means to her. -The KWF Team
Welcome to June, and the month where we celebrate with gratitude and grace being gifted time. A reflection to be grateful that we are the ones who joined the 1 in 8 women diagnosed with breast cancer, and our journeys have continued for us to live another day. We get to share experiences and continue to make memories. We are survivors who have endured one of the greatest battles we would face in our lifetimes and then through organizations like KWF, united by a sisterhood embedded with the spirit of experiencing fun on this journey. We have found joy, strength, and community with our precious remaining moments in this vast and glorious thing called life.
When I was asked to write this piece, I was preparing to celebrate entering 42 years of 365s. Birthdays are a reflection point for me, like many others, and often like a New Year, I start to think about what I want this next go-round to look like. I also begin to reflect on what has the past years been like. Choices I made and those moments where choices were not mine to make, but my journey to be experienced, learn, and grow. There are moments that I am still in awe of when I look at the family I have created and the friends and community that I have been blessed to be a part of. A business that developed out of one of the most trying experiences I have ever faced. There is an acknowledgment of the pains, mistakes, and sorrows I endured and the impacts and strengths they have taught me. All are part of the unique experiences that tell a story, our stories.
These magical and manic moments are part of the beauty of our unique fingerprints on a timeline that has existed far before us and will exist long after we are gone. They become part of something that can never be wiped away and is part of an enormous, beautiful, and impactful experience. This month serves as a reminder to choose happiness, embrace the messiness, give yourself love and grace, and be proud of the journey you experienced along the way. We are survivors.
Autumn is an abstract artist and jewelry designer who has spent 15 years working in the country's nonprofit, advocacy, and community organizing sectors. She was always a fan of the arts and discovered her inner artistic voice while undergoing breast cancer treatment in 2017. Art became her form of healing, a place of strength, and a way to share love .
Now a survivor, she turned her passion for color and texture into a growing business with @ArtbyAutumnM and @AllCheri. She views time as magical moments to inspire and be inspired. An adventure to learn, grow, relearn, experience, shape, and share the beauty in our
A few years back, I was sitting with my primary care doctor for my annual physical when he asked me pointedly, “How are you feeling?”
Barely registering the actual question, I quipped quickly, “Oh, I’m fine. I feel fine.”
“No,” he said, looking at me more directly. “How are you feeling emotionally? Mentally? A lot has happened for you this year. How are you?”
If you’ve ever been caught off guard by someone asking you genuinely how you are, you know that the feeling can be almost disorienting. In a world where we throw out “fines” and “okays” and “hanging in theres” all day, answering honestly can feel complicated.
In that moment with my doctor, my response was to burst into tears. I might have felt embarrassed or confused at my reaction had I not seen so many of my own patients do the very same thing when invited to drop the mask and share the real status of their hearts and minds.
I shared with him how much my mood and energy had been impacted by the stress of that year, and how I wasn’t sleeping well and couldn't get motivated to do so many of the things I used to love. I described how music just felt uninspiring and the colors outside my windows felt duller. And I was getting irritable and snapping at the people I loved the most.
Even just acknowledging these truths to someone felt like twisting the top off a soda bottle and releasing some of the pressure. Even as a psychologist who works to battle the stigma associated with mental health, I noticed myself nervous to see his reaction.
Fortunately, I was met with an empathic response and a discussion of options to help me feel better. I had gotten away from doing regular therapy in the chaos of life, and knew that seeing my therapist consistently had always helped me stay balanced in the past. We talked about adding medicine to my toolkit, as well as enlisting more help with work and home life.
Starting a conversation about your mental health can be difficult because we’ve been taught to disconnect it from our overall health. Our society historically treated physical and mental health as two distinct entities, despite the fact that our brains are absolutely part of our physical selves, and our mental health impacts and is impacted by our body.
This disconnect has led to one of the most significant health crises in human history – a mental health crisis that has resulted in a lot of unnecessary suffering.
As stewards of mental wellness, we can play an important role in starting the conversation about our mental and emotional wellbeing. We can start by talking more openly about how we are feeling with the people who truly want to know – without minimizing or dismissing it. We can ask others to share openly as well, refusing to accept the “fines” and “okays” that we might be met with.
And when we notice in ourselves or in those we love a change in mood, energy, or personality, we can encourage seeking out mental health support. Therapy is a great place to start, and has been found to be effective for the majority of people.
I am personally so grateful for a doctor who pushed me to share more openly and initiate the support I deserved. We can offer that same gift to ourselves and others.
By: Ashley Solomon, PsyD, CEDS (Licensed Clinical Psychologist + Founder, Galia Collaborative)
At KWF we care deeply about the mental health of the women we serve. In fact, it's why we started this mission in the first place. We understand the difficulty in starting the conversation which is why we have partnered with Galia Collaborative to help our recipients with just that. Galia empowers purpose-driven women to elevate their impact by developing their mental strength and well-being. Learn more about Galia and their mental health resources HERE!
-The KWF Team
In honor of 15 years of KWF, we are sharing 15 gifts & life lessons, my mom, Karen Wellington instilled in her family, friends and all those happy strangers she met along the way. We encourage you to take some time today to read through them and toast to her legacy. A legacy that now includes thousands of women like her, who too, know the importance of having FUN on the calendar.
Cheers to the next 15!
15 Life Lessons My Mom Left Behind...
1. Celebrate strangers. Celebrate the people around you. Go above and beyond, no matter how big or small their milestone may be - life is worth celebrating. Buy the dress, eat the cake, book the damn trip…
2. If you have a roof over your head and a hot meal on your table, you are privileged. Therefore, reach back and help those who were not afforded the same good fortune and opportunities as you. Show them they are worthy of the same love you receive. When you get to the end of your life your legacy will not embody all that you did for yourself, but rather how fiercely and unconditionally you loved others.
3. Be the first one on stage and the last to leave the party.
4. Your family is made up of the people you surround yourself with every day and that extends far beyond your bloodline.
5. Find humor in things that aren’t always funny - like cancer. It is okay to laugh through difficult times. In fact, sometimes it is the only way to move through the obstacles life throws your way.
6. Learn how to apologize. And get really good at it. Hurting others is inevitable, but making amends is crucial. It’ll make them feel better. It’ll make you feel better too.
7. Don’t settle for average, because “you are not an average person.”
8. “Use your brain.” Make good judgments that will benefit your life down the road.
9. Be a great friend. The type of friend you want by your side through it all.
10. Create music and art and share them with others! Talents and passions are not something to be kept hidden.
11. Learn when it is time to let go of what and who are no longer serving you.
12. When life throws difficulties your way, it is okay to be sad. You can cry all you want but in the end, you must remember to pull yourself up and keep moving despite it all. Your strength extends further than you know.
13. Protect the ones you love as well as those who don’t have the ability to protect themselves. Use your voice for good.
14, Be adventurous, take risks, move mountains, and shake up the norm. Don’t ever live inside your comfort zone. It’s boring in there.
15. Above all else, courage.