- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Imagine battling cancer. Then, imagine doing it for the third time by age 14. Kayla, a teenager from St. Mary’s County, is fighting that fight with family at her side.
She also has something extra helping her. She has a fairy godmother.
The fairy godmother is provided by a new nonprofit in Southern Maryland — the Fairy Godmother Project. The Fairy Godmother Project, which just started work in this area this spring and also serves the Richmond and Fredericksburg, Va., areas, is designed to provide services to families, like Kayla’s, that are dealing with pediatric cancer.
Vicki Hoffman of La Plata, Southern Maryland chapter coordinator of the Fairy Godmother Project, is offering a helping hand to this young cancer patient and her family as their lead volunteer.
“We’re spreading the word and getting ready to serve our first family,” Hoffman said back in June. That work with Kayla’s family began in July and Hoffman hopes to raise the funds to add two more families by the start of 2014.
Cofounder and Executive Director Andie McConnell began the Fairy Godmother Project in Fredericksburg in 2011 and is, Hoffman said, an “old friend.”
The two have known each other for 10 years and met through mutual friends. In that time, Hoffman has seen McConnell build the organization.
“I’ve watched her work really hard,” Hoffman said. The Fairy Godmother Project officially became a nonprofit in January 2012.
McConnell was drawn to the cause in 2003 after meeting her Arizona neighbors who had a son who had survived brain cancer. She listened to the family tell their story of feeling abandoned through the course of treatment. In Fredericksburg in 2009, she learned that a friend’s daughter was diagnosed with brain cancer and decided to help the family as the girl went through treatment. The child’s mother asked her if she would be the “fairy godmother” to her children. McConnell then researched the services that were needed for families in her community.
McConnell said her organization functions as an emotional support system for families — it does not issue grants to the families it serves, but it strives to alleviate the stress taken on by the parents of children undergoing cancer treatment.
“We are really taking care of parents,” McConnell said.
The program provides domestic support. Services include meals that are cooked to patients’ needs and delivered to families’ front doorsteps, professional lawn cutting and cleaning services, gas cards and arrangements for parents to go out on date nights.
Photography sessions, started up by the Fairy Godmother Project cofounder, Stephanie Johnson, are also donated by professional photographers to document the struggles of pediatric cancer families and to remember each child. This aspect of the program is just getting under way in Southern Maryland.
“It’s something that these families don’t have time to do,” Hoffman said.
Families come to the organization through word of mouth. Kayla’s mother, Kathy, found out about the Fairy Godmother Project through a Virginia family during a visit to Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Soon after, Kathy received a message on her “Fighting For Kayla” Facebook page from Hoffman.
Kayla began her fight when she was 7 years old, receiving chemotherapy for lymphoma. After two years, physicians discovered she had developed brain cancer. In remission by age 11, Kayla started developing flu-like symptoms after another two years and was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia when she was 13.
McConnell says that the Southern Maryland location, like Fredericksburg, has the potential for success because of the region’s distance from treatment centers. Kathy and Kayla have been traveling to Children’s Hospital in Washington, D.C., every month for 10 consecutive days so that Kayla can receive chemotherapy. After this, they make the drive every other day for 18 days for continued treatment.
The Fairy Godmother Project’s services have gone a long way for them, Kathy said. They receive meals twice a week and a $50 gas card each month.
“It’s amazing,” Kathy said. “It really helps.”
Hoffman looks to her past when considering why she chose to get involved. As a mother and someone who taught elementary school for 11 years until the birth of her first child in 2006, she has always been around children.
“Whether it was a teacher or a mother, I’ve always wanted to help any child in need,” she said.
Hoffman wanted to find a way to help ever since she read about her childhood friend’s son’s battle with cancer; she has also seen how chemotherapy has affected her sister-in-law, who has been diagnosed with breast cancer.
In 2012, after she saw a video that McConnell created about her experiences and the organization, Hoffman said to herself, “Sign me up.”
The Southern Maryland chapter of Fairy Godmother Project now has more than 30 volunteers from Charles and St. Mary’s counties. No volunteer base exists in Calvert County, but is needed, Hoffman says.
McConnell’s ambition is to expand the project to the national level. Her inspiration comes from her volunteers, she said. That people are willing to give to families they do not personally know for her organization is what drives her to do what she does.
“Strangers helping strangers is amazing to me,” she said.
Hoffman, now taking care of her two children, will return to the classroom in the fall as a part-time preschool teacher. “I always wanted to be a teacher. I never wanted to do anything else,” she said.
Meanwhile, Kayla and her family fight on. In the fall, Kayla will receive a bone-marrow transplant at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. Kathy will be her donor.
Kayla will enter the ninth grade at Chopticon High School this year with the help of a home school tutor.
To learn more
The Southern Maryland Chapter of the Fairy Godmother Project will host a series of fundraising events in the coming weeks. A Shop for The Cause Event will take place at Macy’s on Aug. 24 and savings passes will be sold until then for $5 each. A Blue Crabs fundraiser will be held Sept. 13, with the baseball game starting at 7:05 p.m. at Regency Furniture Stadium in Waldorf. And the first Fairy Godmother Project Southern Maryland Golf Tournament will be held Oct. 22 at the Breton Bay golf course.
For more on Fairy Godmother Project events or how to donate or volunteer, visit www.fairygodmotherproject.org. Southern Maryland residents with an interest in volunteering or attending quarterly volunteer training nights at the Charlotte Hall library may also contact Tricia Holcomb at email@example.com. Inquiries on donating to the Southern Maryland chapter of the Fairy Godmother Project may also be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.