Thursday, February 27, 2014

Volunteer Spotlight: Wendy Chang

 Great volunteers make their way to Family House through all sorts of different channels. Wendy Chang first heard about Family House through our very own Social Media Coordinator, Joey Kotfica. Wendy and Joey volunteer together at Project Open Hand in San Francisco. Wendy has dedicated a majority of her time to volunteering at various organizations including: Hand on Bay Area, Aidswalk SF, AIDS Foundation and the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

Wendy has been an extraordinary help to Family House both in the Business Office as well as at our Thanksgiving, Christmas parties and at our largest fundraiser of the year, Cabernet for Connoisseurs where over $1 Million dollars was raised.

In addition to volunteering, Wendy works part-time as an exam proctor for city and state government jobs and as a theater usher. She also enjoys reading, gardening and walking around San Francisco.

Wendy, you provide tremendous support to help events and projects run smoothly and always have a smile on your face! Thank you so much for your support at Family House!

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Monday, February 24, 2014

Remembering Jordan Stuart - A Fundraiser

Courtney Stuart reached out to Family House in January about doing something to celebrate the memory of her brother, Jordan, who passed away in 1992. We brainstormed some ideas, and Courtney decided to do a gift-card and pillow drive for the families currently staying at Family House, “to help keep his memory alive, and of course to give back to the place that brought such peace and faith to my family.” She raised over $900 in donations that were delivered just in time for Jordan’s birthday, on Valentine’s Day. He would have been 24 years old this year.

Q&A with Courtney Stuart

When did you stay at Family House, and how old were you at the time?

I stayed at Family House between May of 1991 and May of 1992 while my little brother, Jordan, was undergoing chemotherapy and radiation.  He was 2 when he lost his battle and I was 4. Although I only lived at Family House for a year, it was much more than a house to me - It was a HOME.

Even though I was so young, I always wanted to be the only one pushing Jordi’s stroller or holding him. As a 4-year-old, I loved having a baby “of my own” to take care of. After he passed, I wore Jordan’s clothes almost every day. I went from being dressed in pink dresses every day to opting to only wear his blue or red clothes. I actually used his blankets as blankets on my bed until about two years ago.

What do you remember most about staying at Family House?

Well, the whole reason this fundraising drive started for Jordan's birthday is because my dad had sent me a link about Family House. Although I still can't recall Jordan much from my memories (because I was so young at the time), I was somehow able to retain fond memories of Family House... the sounds of the Muni train going by and how the lights used to flicker and slightly dim when it passed, the blue padded basement and all of the games we would play and fun we would have down there (plus we could jump all around and not get hurt because it seemed the whole room was padded)!  I doubt it still looks like that now, but the memories stay the same. Just a lot of subtle memories but all of them made me feel at PEACE.  Family House brought normalcy into my life at a time when my whole family was falling apart.

A year after Jordan passed, in 1993, my father started the Jordan Stuart Memorial Golf Tournament to raise awareness and support for families of children with pediatric cancer. In the early years, I would help out at by babysitting kids in the daycare at the tournament, singing for guests during the banquet dinner, photographing all of the players and events of the day to post on the website, or coordinating and picking up donations for the silent and live auctions, and whatever other tasks were needed.

In 1995, we met Kyra Pillsbury and her family, and she passed away from a brain tumor the following year. I remember thinking how unfair it was and how I couldn't believe TWO kids had died of cancer. Her passing brought two great men together - my dad, and Kyra's uncle, Dave Pillsbury. When Dave joined and it turned into the Jordan AND Kyra golf tournament... it opened many new doors of opportunity on a national level.  The word was spread more, which ultimately led to more donations. Our tournament "family" grew, it became something people anticipated every year- something people traveled great distances to attend. Together as a duo - I’m certain they could accomplish almost anything.

Tell us about the donations drive you organized this year to commemorate Jordan's birthday.

I posted a status on my Facebook page to see how many people might be interested in contributing Safeway gift cards. I honestly thought everybody would ignore the post, or that maybe some close family members might want to help out (even though they already donate every year through our golf tournament). I was shocked when we hit $200 worth of gift cards, so I posted again & stated that I hope we could make a goal of $1,000- I figured maybe then we'd get HALF of the goal. In the end, we raised over $900 worth of gift cards/monetary donations, plus 7 pillows - better than I ever hoped!

What are your plans for the future?

This fundraising drive has been totally inspiring to me and I'm really hoping to make this a yearly thing from now on! I'm sure the needs of Family House will change as the years pass, but I'd love to help out in any way I can. I want the families that are living there to feel the same comfort, hope, love, and inspiration that my family and I felt when we stayed there (and ever since).

Thank you, Courtney and friends, for your generous contributions to the lives of families currently staying at Family House! Your support means so much!

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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Cabernet for Connoisseurs 2014: A Letter from Dr. Art Ablin, Family House Founder

Dear Karen, Neil and the 2014 Cabernet Committee:

What a wonderful event!!!

We raised a lot; I don’t know exactly how much or if it was more or less than last year’s Cabernet, but that doesn’t make it any less spectacular than it was.  It was the best.  There is nothing anyone can put into words that describes the excitement there, gobs of beautiful young volunteers opening doors and giving directions,  the swizzling glasses and smacking lips in the wine tasting rooms, the careful and orderly arrangement of the displayed silent auction items and the constant, hum-drum pace of the auction.  The talks that Neil, Alexandra, and Dick Grace gave so eloquently brought home the Family House Mission and of course having the Ferrick Family there with young Jay’s presence on the stage left no doubt about what the evening was for. I know we raised over $500,000 on people just raising their numbers, to say nothing of the rest of the wine and other items.  It was absolutely the best!

Congratulations to all who had anything to do with this spectacular event.  Anyone there and all those who were not able to make it, can not help from being so proud to be a part of Family House.  We may not be the greatest, but one thing for certain:  there are none better.

Thank you Neil Committee and all the many others that made this possible.

Debbie and Art Ablin

Check out the event photos from this momentous night:

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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A Cancer Survivor Looks Back

What would you do if you found out your 5-year-old had cancer?

In February of 2000, Matt and Mary Ferrick noticed their son was limping, and they did what any parent would do - they brought him to the doctor. Scans revealed that a previously-undetected tumor in his stomach had now spread to his hip. Jay was rushed 100 miles from their home in Ukiah to UCSF to be treated for stage 4 neuroblastoma. Pulled out of kindergarten, he was admitted to the hospital, and his family stayed at Family House on and off for 14 months while he underwent chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, and a stem cell transplant.

"One thing I remember about the Family House is that I always looked forward to going.  Especially I remember because there were video games in the downstairs living room, and me and my little brother looked forward to playing video games because we didn't have them at home," recalls Jay, now 19 years old and a healthy sophomore at Chico State.

"Jay is doing very well, he lives a normal life, and is able to do everything that everybody else does.  He's been 12-13 years in remission now.  Of the type of cancer he had, 70% of the kids relapse, but Jay has been healthy since he completed his treatment. It's been a blessing to put it in the rear view mirror," says his father, Matt.

"Family House provided support for the whole family…  [For Jay's younger brother, Thomas,] having a sibling who's getting all the attention - some people really struggle with that, feeling they're in the background…. we've always tried to make them feel equal." Playing Nintendo in the Family House living room was a highlight for both boys. "[Thomas] thought it was a big thrill to go to San Francisco and see his big brother;" at only 3 years old at the time, he couldn't comprehend the seriousness of the situation, Matt recalls.

Jay's oncologist, Dr. Katherine Matthay, says that "Neuroblastoma is a very, very serious cancer that we find only in young children. More than 50% of children already have the cancer spread to their bones and their bone marrow at the time the cancer is detected." At the time of Jay's diagnosis and treatment, fewer than 15% of children survived metastatic neuroblastoma.

Dick and Anne Grace of Grace Family Vineyards are longtime Family House supporters, and have even awarded a grant to Dr. Matthay for cancer research. The targeted radiotherapy treatment that was developed from that grant is now one of the most active treatments for widespread and resistant neuroblastoma.  Dick says, "Annie and I had the extraordinary privilege of walking a portion of Jay's cure path alongside both he and his family, and it was there that we got the opportunity to see the courage and see the commitment and the resolve that he had in navigating this path."

Looking back, Jay hopes that his battle with cancer will be an inspiration to others who are currently undergoing treatment. "When we go to UCSF, we visit '7 Long,' the floor I was on, and I see all the kids there, and I hope that they see how I am, and hope that they can be cured and be a regular kid like me."

We are delighted that the Ferricks continue to be part of the Family House family!

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