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Help from a ‘Fairy Godmother’

Pediatric cancer patients, families receive assistance from new program
Andie McConnell of Stafford, Va., watched as 22-month-old Evy, a friend’s daughter, was diagnosed with pediatric brain cancer in 2009.

McConnell was driven to help the family and started fundraising projects.The result was the Fairy Godmother Project, a movement that began as a way to provide comfort and assistance to families struggling with the difficulties that occur when raising a child with cancer.

The project recently added a chapter to Richmond and has helped bring relief to families in the area that are consumed by the disease and its treatment.

Amazed at the outpouring of support and the success of her actions, McConnell linked with professional photographer Stephanie Johnson and worked on moving forward with her efforts. Evy’s mother dubbed Andie her daughter’s “fairy godmother,” igniting the creation of the Fairy Godmother Project.

Lauren Leporati, coordinator for the Richmond Chapter, stumbled upon the Fairy Godmother Project online and felt driven to get involved. After contacting McConnell and expressing her desire to assist families in the Richmond area, Leporati started a chapter in the area, which began in January.

“I know a lot of people have a personal connection to cancer and that’s why they start but I just really wanted to help,” said Leporati. “When I was reading about these families of children with cancer I thought of my own two children and couldn’t imagine what it would be like to go through that and the heartache of it all. I wanted to do something to help other people.”

One of the biggest struggles when taking care of a child with cancer is having the time or energy to do everyday tasks and having time to relax.

The project aims to help ease the pressures off families by providing meals, housecleaning services, lawn care and date nights, while providing optimum care for the child. In addition, the program provides monthly Visa gift cards to families that they can use to buy groceries, gas and other necessities.

About 10 volunteers are actively serving three separate families throughout the area.

When a family receives assistance, it is paired with a lead volunteer who helps from the beginning of the child’s diagnosis until a month after his or her treatment ends, providing consistency and allowing for the family to become comfortable and build a relationship with the volunteer.

Leporati and the lead volunteers are focused on providing optimum assistance, and they meet with the families in the beginning to discuss their needs and struggles.

Shannon Hubbel, a Chesterfield resident, has received assistance from the FGP for the past four months after McConnell stumbled upon Hubbel’s blog about her five-year-old daughter Emily’s journey with neuroblastoma, a cancer that occurs in infants and children.

“The Fairy Godmother Project found us,” said Hubbel. “I was very grateful for the help and every little bit they could do was great. They offered to do meals for us and some weeks were at the hospital every day so coming home to a hot meal was amazing and I am so appreciative. It makes life not as stressful and my nights not as long.”

The FGP is a non-profit organization and receives funding through events, individual contributions, spirit nights at restaurants and fundraisers. Although the project helps with everyday tasks, it also seems to complete the circle of support to navigate families through their child’s diagnosis and ease the process.

“Lauren will send me texts telling me she’s thinking about us,” says Hubbel. “Knowing that they are not just there to help but they care is amazing. I can’t give them enough kudos and the people there have huge hearts and I appreciate everything they do for us.”

In addition to the at-home services the FGP provides, it also teams with professional photographers who volunteer their time and expertise to photograph the families to capture precious moments.

FGP hopes that these services can provide comfort to families facing the most difficult of times. Many people want to help but aren’t sure what to do, and the FGP can direct people to assist those in need throughout the community.

By easing the burden of everyday life for local families who have a child in treatment for a form of pediatric cancer, it can take away some of the stress and provide relief. The FGP is looking for volunteers so it can serve as many potential families as possible.

“If its something simple and easy that somebody could do to take that burden off of a family, why not do it?” said Leporati. “I think it’s important and sometimes I feel like if we didn’t help each other out who would. A lot of it is just simple basic things that anybody can do but its completely overwhelming for these families.”

To contact the Fairy Godmother Project or learn more, visit http://www.fairygodmotherproject.org To re.ad Emily Hubbel’s blog visit http://www.emilyhubbel.com
Community

Lions Club donates backpacks to elementary school

The Richmond West Breakfast Lions Club (based in western Henrico) recently donated 59 backpacks to the Westover Hills Elementary School on Jahnke Road.

Above, club members display some of the backpacks prior to their distribution. > Read more.

Glen Allen student to perform at Carnegie Hall

Thanks to a first-place win in The American Protege International Vocal Competition 2014, Glen Allen High School student Matija Tomas will travel to New York City to perform at Carnegie Hall in December.

At the first-place winners recital in Weill Hall, Matija will perform Giacomo Puccini’s opera aria, “Chi il bel sogna di doretta.” She will perform with other vocalists from around the world and have the opportunity to win other awards and scholarships.

Locally, Thomas has performed with Richmond’s renowned Glorious Christmas Nights, Christian Youth Theatre, and WEAG’s Urban Gospel Youth Choir. > Read more.

Gayton Baptist Church dedicates new outreach center


The John Rolfe YMCA and Gayton Baptist Church have partnered in an effort to bring greater health and wellness opportunities to the community.

Through this partnership, the John Rolfe Y will run Youth Winter Sports programs, including basketball and indoor soccer, in Gayton’s newly renovated $5.5 million outreach center that features a new gymnasium, youth and teen space, social space with café, meeting space and full service commercial kitchen. > Read more.

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Entertainment

The Boathouse to open at Short Pump Town Center

The Boathouse restaurant will open at Short Pump Town Center in the spring, its third location in the region.

“People have asked us to come to the West End for years,” said owner Kevin Healy. “When the opportunity arose, we knew had to jump on it.”

The new restaurant will be located in a 5,800-square-foot space under the Hyatt House Hotel at the town center and will include a large outdoor patio. > Read more.

Getting a ‘mouf’-ful

Boka Kantina exceeds its strong food truck reputation
Already a fan of Boka fare from outdoor events with the Tako Truck, I was delighted to learn of the new restaurant, and eager to see if its reputation held up after putting down brick-and-mortar roots.

Would the food lose its zest if I wasn’t enjoying it in the great outdoors? Would it seem pedestrian served from an ordinary kitchen instead of a truck?

Would the tacos be less satisfying as an antidote to normal lunch hunger – instead of being ingested to stave off desperate hunger after a long afternoon of crowds, sun, and tedious lines? > Read more.

Lakeside microbrewery beginning to take shape

Original Gravity gets the green light to move forward with relocation, expansion into larger space

A Lakeside home-brewing shop has felt the gravitational pull toward the booming craft beer scene.

Original Gravity, a shop that sells beer and wine kits for homebrewers, has just been given the green light to start work on a microbrewery.

Owner Tony Ammendolia is expanding his 1,000-square-foot shop in Lakeside Town Center to 5,000-square-foot digs a few doors down to add a brewery and expand his supplies.

Ammendolia opened the home-brew supply store in November 2011 and since then he said business has taken off.

“I think I outgrew this place in the first year,” Ammendolia said. “We’ve seen steady growth and I’ve been looking for a place to expand to move the shop to get more square footage.” > Read more.

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