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 read Emily Hubbel’s blog visit http://www.emilyhubbel.com.
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The Retail Merchants Association will present its Distinguished Retailer of the Year Award at a ceremony from 7:15 a.m. to 9:15 a.m. at The Westin Richmond, 6631 W. Broad St. The award honors leaders in the retail field who actively give back to the community through volunteering, support and engagement. It is a tradition that has been honored since 1966. Cost is $30 for RMA members and $40 for nonmembers. To register, visit http://www.retailmerchants.com. Full text

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