Charity Issue: Once a friend, always a friend

By Kinley Bokermann, Kirkwood High School

As a parent, you will never be ready for the words.

“Your child has cancer.”

Eva Schueller, Developmental Coordinator for Friends of Kids with Cancer, said this is one of the hardest things for parents to hear. She said many times when a child is diagnosed with cancer, there is such a focus on the disease and as a result they lose a sense of childhood. Friends of Kids with Cancer works to shift this focus by giving families something to look forward to. The one word she used to describe it is giving them hope.

Friends of Kids with Cancer (FOKWC) was founded in 1992 by Molly Henry and Suzie Snowden, two parents with children in cancer treatment, and  Jill Turec, a Developmental Specialist. Their hope was to provide children with cancer treatment outside of the medical aspect. The first step was giving children a toy after each treatment. Now celebrating their 30th anniversary, this is one of the many services they offer as an organization to help the children, as well as their families.

These kids were receiving the medical support they needed, but they were missing out on their sense of childhood.

“These kids were receiving the medical support they needed, but they were missing out on their sense of childhood,” Schueller said. “They felt that providing the children with a toy after every treatment would be a good way to provide them with a little joy. It all started with that very simple idea and has grown from there.”

Each time a child is diagnosed with cancer, FOKWC receives a referral from the hospital outlining the child’s interests. They then send toys or gift cards to the hospital which the child receives after each treatment. In addition, the referral recommends different programs the child and their family may benefit from that fall under the organization’s three programming pillars: educational, emotional and recreational.

Educational programming provides families with tutors and devices, such as iPads and laptops, so they can continue their education while in treatment and aid their transition back to the classroom.

Emotional programming offers counseling services to families to help them cope with the stress and anxiety that accompanies a cancer diagnosis, including individual and group counseling for people in and out of treatment. They also provide non-traditional therapeutic outlets, such as music and art therapy.

Recreational programming includes the various events the organization holds for patients throughout the year, whether that be Halloween at Grant’s Farm, Back-to-School Night at the Magic House, Family Garden Night at the Botanical Gardens or the gifting of various tickets to Blues and Cardinals games and attractions across St. Louis throughout the year. At these events, children are met with presents and gift cards. Their goal with these programs is to ensure that everyone is supported along the journey and that everything is about the kids.

What we do at Friends is help kids be kids.

“What we do at Friends is help kids be kids,” Morgyn Mount, Program Coordinator for Friends of Kids with Cancer, said. “Our events are fun ways for the kids to escape what they are going through for a little bit and give them a night where they don’t have to worry about the hospital or going through treatment. It’s a good way for people to come together.”

Also under recreational programming are the many fundraisers the organization holds throughout the year, such as their Trivia Night, Walk with a Friend 5K run-walk, Golf Tournament and Art from the Heart, which auctions off pieces of art done in the art therapy program throughout the year. At the beginning of November, FOKWC held their annual fashion show, their biggest event of the year. In the show, 30 patients in active treatment are invited to spend the night at the Ritz-Carlton, get their hair and makeup professionally done and strut down the runway in fancy clothes to make the guests feel special and beautiful.

“As these patients are going through treatment, they begin losing their hair and their bodies are changing, they don’t necessarily feel that sense of beauty and self-worth,” Schueller said. “Allowing them to dress up and feel confident and strong gives them a sense of purpose and self-confidence.”

The kids love it, seeing them smile as they walk down the runway is such a cool experience.

Grace Griffin, senior, volunteered to help with the last Fashion Show in 2019 as a model partner. After playing Just Dance and walking down the runway, she said the best part was being with the kids and seeing their excitement and smiles throughout the night.

“The kids love it,” Griffin said. “You hangout with them all day and help them pick out their outfits. Seeing them smile as they walk down the runway is such a cool experience, and it feels super awesome to know that I was a part of making their day.”

Through the various events they hold throughout the year and the numerous support outlets, Friends of Kids with Cancer aspires to bring hope to the lives of the patients and their families one step at a time. This means taking care of the patient and the family as a whole.

“Our unofficial motto is once a friend, always a friend,” Schuller said. “We try to help [the patients] forget about whatever pain or suffering they may be going through. The kids are obviously the best part. Seeing them when they are smiling, happy and feeling like a kid is a great feeling.”

This story was originally published on The Kirkwood Call on December 1, 2022.