“Recipients are the heart of [KWF].....the Recipient Ambassador Board has not only been a great addition to the foundation, but it has also empowered recipients to be able to give back” - Lori Falke, RAB chair.
For our recipients, the magic of KWF does not fade away the minute they walk out of the spa or as their homebound plane wheels touch down on the tarmac. Oftentimes, we’ve found that it is quite the opposite. It’s when they get home and have an opportunity to help give or plan a spa day or vacation for someone else that makes them come alive. That certainly was how my mom, Karen Wellington, did things. Whether it was dressing me and my friends up for Halloween and having us pass out candy to patients in the chemo chairs or simply going above and beyond to make each individual in her life feel seen - she knew the importance of giving. And that’s certainly consistent with KWF’s Give-First mantra. That giving spirit lives on thanks to the leadership of our Recipient Ambassador Board.
Our RAB is made up of 12 highly energetic, hilarious and passionate former recipients. It’s a sisterhood of sorts, a growing group that openly shares the struggles that come with cancer, while quickly pivoting to share the 4 types of alcohol mixed into their favorite cocktail recipe which they will be enjoying on this month’s virtual happy hour (open to ALL recipients.) You see, these women are used to making the best of bad situations. So when their in-person happy hour gets bumped to Zoom, they don’t complain - they pour more into their glasses and toast to resilience.
This past month we added two new incredible additions to our board, Penny House and Tara Riley. While I will check-in with Penny on a later date, this month I got the chance to sit down with Tara to discuss why she joined the RAB.
As a wife, mom, grandma and longtime educator, it quickly became apparent that Tara has always been a caregiver. With a give-first mentality, she is quick to find silver linings in hardship and provide a sense of hope and sisterhood to those in need. Tara told me that when first diagnosed with cancer, she was gifted a pink fuzzy blanket. She then passed it along to a friend who was diagnosed after her. And although that blanket has been deemed the “gift that keeps on giving” - Tara decided that she would buy a fresh pink blanket and give it to each new survivor she befriended. Although it is a club no one wants to join, she found that inviting those in with a gift of cozy solidarity seemed like the best place to start.
Tara also pointed to the significance of her KWF vacation and the impact it had on her life. Tara and her husband, Charles, went to Naples Florida back in 2019. Despite her excitement, leading up to the trip, she had little to no energy. The physical and mental pounding from cancer had taken its toll. She was tired and for good reason. However, the minute her feet hit that white Florida sand a new boost of energy came over her. “I immediately jumped in the air,” she remembers. Tara beams that this magical trip not only changed her life, but provided a sense of relief for her husband and caretaker during a very important time. “It lifted my soul,” Tara says.
In joining the RAB, Tara noted the importance of being active in finding good people in good community while focusing on giving some happiness to others. We say it all the time, but at its core, KWF creates a healthy cycle of receiving and giving. Which is consistent with Tara’s life mission of bringing joy to others. Tara understands that LIVING and giving go hand and hand. She will fit in perfectly with our RAB and their mission of having FunNow while giving even more away. This group knows how to see life with a glass half full mentality. And whether you choose to fill yours with love or chardonnay is completely up to. But you’ll quickly find, they pour both.
Tara & Penny, welcome to the sisterhood!
“We both agreed it was a godsend. Just at the right time. Just when we needed it,” Dave said as we discussed the impact of the KWF vacation on his family.
Dave and his late wife Terri had the opportunity to go on a last vacation to Key West, Florida in 2017 thanks to our givers. But their story starts 30 years prior.
Dave met Terri right out of college while both were working at the Kenwood Towne Centre in Cincinnati. Dave worked on the loading dock and recalls carrying empty boxes past Terri pretending he had work to do in that area to get her attention. After a good amount of effort and a couple hundred boxes later, Dave succeeded. They hit it off. He ended up proposing to Terri in 1985 before he left to serve in the Air Force as a physical medicine specialist.
Together, the military gave them the opportunity to live all over the world. From the US to Asia - Terri was by his side, but paving her own path. She always was her own person. During their 4 years in Japan, Terri volunteered for several charitable organizations, dedicating her efforts to the Red Cross while making sure she took time for adventure herself. Terri was a free spirit. “She loved to travel, do new things and go new places. In 1989, “when our first son came along,” Dave notes, “she would hop in the car with him and go explore. She had an excellent sense of direction.”
Whether it was navigational expertise or a strong moral compass, Terri also had a strong sense of directional purpose. She moved through life with a unique and loving perspective that guided her. Raising their sons Pete and Andy - Dave worked to provide structure and discipline to the household. Terri was on board, but she made it her mission to always bring the love into whatever the family did.
At the start of their marriage Terri and Dave didn’t have the time or the money to take the honeymoon they always wanted. Between the wedding, military service and kids, a honeymoon never seemed to be in the cards. But in 2016, priorities quickly changed when Terri was diagnosed with cancer. The long overdue “honeymoon” could no longer wait. Thanks to our KWF givers, Dave and Terri honeymooned in Key West, Florida. The trip was perfect. Dave remembers it all. From the sandy beaches to the exact location of the condo and, of course, the red mustang rental that happened to be Dave’s dream car. He also remembers the smile on Terri’s face. A gift.
The trip also gave Dave and Terri a chance to be together and leave the cancer behind. This was important because Dave, like many spouses LIVING with cancer, had “to get used to not being able to solve this problem.” "I’m a caregiver, so it was tough,” Dave said, “you have to get used to sitting on the bench sometimes.” The belated honeymoon got Dave off the bench and onto a beach with Terri. That was significant.
The trip also proved more significant than most honeymoons due to Terri’s short time horizon. Dave and his sons lost Terri this past January.
As our conversation came to a close, Dave offered one last comment about KWF vacations that stuck with us, “It was something tangible, something different, something that gives hope.” We liked that. We also really like Dave. A good man who carries on the adventurous and abundantly loving legacy of a very special lady every day.
By: Angeline Wellington