Funding Hope in the Fight Against Childhood Cancer
September 2, 2022
There are several diagnoses we do not want to hear in a doctor’s office but hearing the word “cancer” leave your doctor’s lips is quite possibly the worst. It is such an abrupt and intrusive word. It is destabilizing in ways few other things are. For families learning their child has been diagnosed with cancer, however, it is shattering.
In the 1970s, a small group of parents from El Paso were looking for a support group to help them navigate the horror of childhood cancer. A local physician encouraged them to reach out to a group in D.C. and even though that was helpful, the parents decided they wanted to form their own informal support group. By 1983, they had incorporated, and now Candlelighters of West Texas and New Mexico provides the most comprehensive range of support services for families experiencing childhood cancer of any nonprofit in the country. Their grassroots DNA has been integral to their success, and parents are still involved at every level of the organization, as board members, staff, and volunteers.
Candlelighters provides financial, psychosocial, and therapeutic programs to address the holistic needs families have during pediatric cancer. This year Candlelighters received a TMF grant to help fund their work. “Funds like the ones we received from TMF are critical. One third of our services are funded directly through grants, which means they are paramount to our mission,” CEO Scott Lynch noted. “We make deep commitments to families over long periods of time. Treatment periods can typically last 2 to 3 years, however, most families will continue receiving services specific to survivorship, siblings, parents, and caregivers. Since 80% of our families are low income, so grant dollars fund programs that build families up and strengthen them during these difficult times and beyond as they transition to a new normal.”
Candlelighters takes families to doctor’s appointments, ensures people have food and access to healthy cooking classes, offers multiple camps for cancer patients and their siblings, and provides a host of other things. Overall, they try not to duplicate the services of other agencies. Instead, Candlelighters partners with other organizations to leverage their expertise, such as providing licensed therapy and making connections for families who need to travel outside El Paso. The most important service they provide, however, is establishing deep relationships with families who need a supportive community. The way in which families stay engaged in this community after their children are no longer part of the program is proof that Candlelighters’ vision for families is working.
“I became familiar with Candlelighters when my daughter was diagnosed. It was such a hard journey. While my daughter was sick, I ended up losing my job. The staff at Candlelighters guided me through this process, and at first, I didn’t want their help, but I took it. I am glad I survived the entire experience. What they did mattered so much that I started volunteering with Candlelighters. Now, I work here,” Family Services Coordinator Hilda Menefee shared. “I know what families are going through. I have been in their shoes, so I refer to the other mothers as sisters of the same pain. They are where I have been, and I can help them.”
The organization has such rich relationships with those they serve that staff members who have lost children and those who have never had a sick child both feel the weight of their work compelling them to give their best each day.
Ray De La Fuente manages the donation center, which collects used clothing that is wholesaled to Savers. Those donations add up to major dollars, so the center provides earned income on a monthly basis to the organization. Ray works tirelessly to find new clothing drive partners and increase fundraising because he knows the value of his work. “When the food pantry was moved to the donation center, our staff really started to get to know the families personally. We meet so many people whose children are affected by cancer, and it is such an upheaval for the entire family. That gives you an incentive to keep going. I will face 100 noes, if it means I have one person say yes to helping our organization,” Ray said tenaciously.
When grant funds support organizations like Candlelighters, communities are shaped, and solutions are developed. Grants serve as a catalyst for addressing needs through local approaches that are sustainable and holistic. Moreover, they empower dedicated teams of people, sisters of the same pain, who will offer hope, even in life’s most shattering situations.
“TMF was excited to support Candlelighters through our grant funding because they serve families experiencing childhood cancer in unique ways, offering encouragement with compassion and grace to the entire family,” TMF Director of Grants Wendy Abel shared. “Their commitment to provide stability to the families they serve aligns with the TMF core value of servanthood. Candlelighters continually asks the question – What can we do for this community? And as they answer that question, they implement effective programing that will shape positive outcomes for families. It is a grant partnership that not only amplifies our core values, but funds hope in the fight against childhood cancer.”