As 2018 ends and 2019 begins, a time for reflection is expected. We frequently look back on the year and look at the good, the bad, and lessons we may have learned. For CJSTUF, 2018 was another year of success. We served meals to over 10,000 patients, family members, and caregivers for the third year in a row. Our Meal Fairies program has inspired additional meal services by the Ronald McDonald House of Richmond as well as organizations that are serving meals at UVA Children’s Hospital. In fact, at least 5 days a week, families getting care for their children at UVA can now receive a meal free of charge. While CJSTUF is not providing all of these meals, we like to take a little bit of credit for the inspiration that brought such a program to the hospital in the first place.
In addition to the reflection of the past year, my thoughts have been on another approaching milestone. 2019 will mark ten years since Charlotte’s diagnosis and treatment. By the end of 2009, we had reached what was the end of Charlotte’s life but only the beginning of the journey for CJSTUF.
What a journey it has been!
Before 2009, our experiences with hospitals had been limited to either my professional training as a speech language pathologist (very limited) or the occasional accident/illness; something that you experienced with your older relatives or very short trips to the ER. The idea of stopping everything for the life of your child for almost a year was something I could barely fathom. We lived the experience and survived with the help of an amazing network of friends and family.
Before 2009, my experience with nonprofits had been as an employee and a donor/supporter/volunteer. We have now lived the startup experience firsthand. We have learned many lessons; I pursued an additional graduate certificate in nonprofit management and participated in the Emerging Nonprofit Leaders Program. I have since sat on other boards and given advice to many people interested in starting up or managing their own nonprofit. Sometimes our seemingly contradictory advice is, “Don’t do it.” It’s hard work, it’s never-ending, and it’s not always the right way to go about changing the world. However, it gave our lives focus at a time when grief was overwhelming and overpowering. In some ways, I think CJSTUF gave me a way to power through my pain and I am grateful for that.
Before 2009, I had experienced grief and loss in many ways. I had lost a parent, all of my grandparents, and even some friends. None of this prepared me for the loss of my own child. I now understand the word anguish in a way that I never thought possible. I understand grief such that stories of tragedy, particularly the death of a child, can instantly bring me to tears. The grief journey has waxed and waned and we have spoken of it often. It flares from time to time and then it subsides. The grief is always there. I would not wish the pain on anyone. Knowing that we can use this pain to further some good in the world is a small relief, one that keeps me rolling out of bed each day.
So as 2019 begins, I look towards many anniversaries with mixed emotions. A decade is a significant milestone. We are proud of the many things that CJSTUF has done for families and we want this legacy to remain for decades to come. We will start the year with our annual #Light4CJSTUF on January 7. It is a day to pause and remember Charlotte’s death for what it means to us and what her legacy can mean to to others. Bringing light to a time of darkness is sometimes all we can do. It can be enough. As the year continues, there will be celebrations, fundraisers, and milestones, including the Thumbs Up Ball in February (do you have your tickets yet?). Most importantly, we will use the next two years to focus on CJSTUF’s legacy for decades to come. Stay tuned for some exciting developments in the life of our organization! We will have a lot to say!
For those of you who have been with us on this journey from the beginning, thank you for everything you have done. Your kindness and light in a time of darkness has been the foundation keeping Roger and me moving forward. For those of you just joining us on the journey, thanks for coming along! Just today, we received a donation from a parent whose child received meals from CJSTUF at UVA during their own medical journey two years ago. Their desire to give back is an expression of gratitude that we understand so well. May the light shine in us so that we may bring it to others in their time of darkness.
Thanks for being a part of the first ten years.