We Look to the Light

For some, 2016 is a year many would like to forget. Between a crazy election year, violence across the globe, and a plethora of celebrity deaths, it’s been enough for many to easily say, “Thanks for nothin’, 2016.” We’ve had our own share of challenges on the homefront too. I can’t say this has been the best year ever.

BUT it bears mentioning that there have been some really exciting reasons to celebrate at CJSTUF this year.


This year, we hit a grand milestone: 10,000 served in our Meal Fairies program in just this year alone. That includes our programs at Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, UVA Health Systems, and the Ronald McDonald House programs in Charlottesville and Richmond.

We also received TWO grants from Rite-Aid’s Kid-Cents program, one for $7500 in January and another for $5000 in December. Thanks to everyone who registered for the Kid-Cents program. If you missed it, you can still sign up. Every little bit counts.

For the third year in a row, Goddard Schools of Richmond partnered with CJSTUF for some amazing Fall and Winter fundraisers. While the totals are still rolling in, we know that we have received over $6000 from the area Goddard School programs. They held fundraisers ranging from spaghetti dinners to art auctions in honor of our organization. We are so grateful for this ongoing commitment from a great group of business owners.

Finally, we started our Mile of Fives campaign with a goal of collecting enough $5 donations that would, when stacked end to end, equal one mile. This would total about $50,000. Our goal for this year was to reach a little over $9,000 but I’m pretty sure we exceeded that goal. Stay tuned in January for an update on our progress.

All of these milestones give me hope. They are small lights that add up over time to create a beacon in the darkness. They keep me focused on the future instead of moping about the past (or the present). Thanks to you, our loyal supporters, we will go into 2017 with strength and courage to continue the work of our mission. We are ready to keep the Meal Fairies going strong…with even the possibility of expansion in the near future.

982e1-regalcj-bmpWith these words of thanks, I would like to remind everyone to make your own #Light4CJSTUF in honor of CJSTUF’s 7th anniversary, which coincides with the anniversary of Charlotte’s death. For the third year in a row, we invite you on January 7 to light a candle, take a picture, and post it to social media with the hashtag #Light4CJSTUF. We’re on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram but you can post anywhere you like. If you’re on Twitter or Instagram, you can tag @cjstuf as well. This has become a beautiful tradition that we (CJ’s family) cherishes each year. Thank you for helping us honor her memory in such a tangible way.

If you’re looking for more ways to make an impact, consider the following for your family’s goals for 2017:

  • Becoming a sustaining donor to CJSTUF with a monthly commitment to our organization. A donation of $10 per month helps us feed over 30 people in our Meal Fairies program.
  • Sign up to make a meal during one of our Ronald McDonald House volunteer dates. This is open to families with children, service organizations, or anyone interested in giving back.
  • Celebrate for CJ in 2017. Run a race in her honor. Ask for donations to CJSTUF in lieu of presents for a wedding, anniversary, birthday, or other special occasion. Host a butterfly social. It’s an easy way to contribute and every little bit makes a difference.

With great thanks,

Rachel Reynolds
CJ’s Mama

It’s Better to Light One Candle

It’s the week of CJ’s death anniversary. I’ve had some thoughts simmering in my head for a few weeks now but can’t seem to write them all down. Let’s see how this goes…

Last year at this time, I reflected upon the 5 years that had passed since Charlotte died and CJSTUF was founded. It was touching to see how many people remembered Charlotte by making a #light4CJSTUF. 

Many people know the proverb, “It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.”

Photo credit: Sara Holloway

When I reach this time of year, it feels easy to curse the darkness; to curl up into a hole with a warm blanket and hide….with the necessary provisions of dark chocolate and wine, of course. Part of it is the cold weather but most of it is memories from 2009 that reach their peak around the Christmas holidays and settle in my chest right around January 1. The darkness won for quite a few years. The holidays were miserable. Now they’re merely tolerable.

I think the light is winning. Perhaps it’s because my attention is diverted. I wrote about 18 months ago on my personal blog, “the busy-ness of child rearing can sometimes be just enough to pull you out of the black hole of grief.” Kiddo is definitely a big part of finding the light. However, I also think that the light is winning because of YOU. The Network has always been there. From day one. It has never faltered. It never went away. The light that is The Network keeps burning. In my mind, it’s like the votive candles in a cathedral. Whenever you enter a Catholic church, you will see the rows of votives. Some are lit; others are not. But it’s always enough. Just when you think that sacred space will be lost to the darkness, someone comes along and offers up another prayer and a candle. They bring the light. That’s how The Network is for us.

So on the sixth anniversary of Charlotte’s death, let me say again: Thank You!

Thank you for allowing us to give back to our community through your gifts to CJSTUF.

Thank you for your moral support, your cheers from the sidelines, and your sympathetic tears.

Thank you for keeping your lights shining.

Let’s make #Light4CJSTUF an annual event. Any time this week, but particularly on January 7, light a candle, take a picture, and post it to social media with the hashtag #light4cjstuf. We’re on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram but you can post anywhere you like. If you’re on Twitter or Instagram, you can tag @cjstuf as well.

By lighting a candle, you are honoring Charlotte’s memory.

By lighting a candle, you are honoring the memory of any child who has died and supporting grieving families.

By lighting a candle, you are giving hope to a family whose child requires constant medical care and frequent hospitalization.

By lighting a candle, you are sharing the mission of CJSTUF with others.

Thank you for being a part of the light.

–Rachel Reynolds
CJSTUF Co-Founder
Mom to CJ

Five Years: What it means

Five years.  A minor milestone kind of year.  Not usually worthy of a class reunion but to a five-year old kid, the fifth birthday is a biggie.  I still remember mine.

A few days after Charlotte Jennie’s death on January 7, 2010 from a Primitive Neuroectodermal Tumor (PNET), we received a letter in the mail from the State Corporation Commission notifying us that CJ’s Thumbs Up Foundation had been officially and legally incorporated.

The date of official incorporation was January 6, 2010.  The day before Charlotte died.

I HATE that CJSTUF exists.  I HATE that CJSTUF HAS to exist.  I HATE the reason we started down this path in the first place.  If I think about how much I hate all that for too long, that’s when my steering wheel begins to take a beating.

Some of the yummy food delivered by the Meal Fairies.
Some of the yummy food delivered by the Meal Fairies.

But without CJSTUF, all that support that was directed at us would have drifted away after Charlotte died.  The 180 grants we’ve sent out would not have helped our families at VCU and UVA Health Systems in their times of need.  We wouldn’t have served 10,000+ meals to the families and caregivers on the 7th floor of Children’s Hospital of Richmond and Ronald McDonald House Charities of Richmond.  We wouldn’t have been able to offer volunteer opportunities to children and adults alike.

We wouldn’t have been able to make a few unbearable situations just a little more bearable.

On top of all that, we wouldn’t have been able to meet the legion of amazing people who have come into our lives:  Our continuously energetic Board Of Directors, the other families with whom we have commiserated and from whom we’ve received such love, and the people–friend, family, and stranger alike–who have entrusted us with their hard-earned resources so that we may be able to continue the forward momentum of this great coping mechanism that we call “CJSTUF.”

At the risk of embarrassing her, we must hold high upon a pedestal our Managing Director, Michelle Alford, and her wonderful family. When we put out the call for applications to fill the newly created position of “Foundation Facilitator,” we had no earthly idea that out of the many talented and highly qualified applicants, we’d be introduced to the amazing Michelle Alford and her family.  Not only did she become an indispensable employee (who totally kicks heiney at what she does) but her entire family is now on the short list of who we call “close and trusted friends.”  And what with the impending adoption of our Kiddo, it’s so nice to have a “best friend” for her in the form of their eldest daughter.

Just a few of the many grants we have sent to families over the last five years.
Just a few of the many grants we have sent to families over the last five years.

Michelle has been a huge part of the growth and success of the Foundation and we hope she will choose to continue her journey with us for the foreseeable future.

Now, none of this will bring Charlotte Jennie back to us and this week is understandably one of great pain and heartache, but we really do find comfort in the fact that we are able to continue her legacy in the form of CJSTUF and that so many people seem to be rooting for us.

We are very thankful for all of those who will be lighting luminaries in Charlotte’s memory on January 7.  Let those lights continue to blaze in your hearts whenever the night seems darkest.


Roger Reynolds
CJSTUF Director of Programs
CJ’s Daddy

Uplifting & Reflective

I sit here on the eve of a new year thinking about everything that has happened since 2010. As we approach the 5th anniversary of the founding of CJSTUF, we also mark the 5th year since Charlotte Jennie’s death from a brain tumor. In that way, January has become a time for profound reflection.

CJ_Annual_2013-coverI am grateful for all that we have been able to accomplish in five years.  As we noted in our 2013 Annual Report, we have provided support in the form of meals and financial assistance to thousands of individuals.  In 2014 alone, we fed over 4000 people through the Lunch Bunch program at Children’s Hospital of Richmond.  In 2015, we will distribute our 200th $500 financial assistance grant.  In 2014, we also expanded our reach to the Charlottesville area, providing assistance to over 20 families served by UVA Health Systems.

As our visibility in the community has grown, we have been given great opportunities to share our story and receive support from generous donors such as the Deep Run Marathon Dance, The Richmond Area Goddard Schools, and the many individual donors who helped us exceed our fundraising goals each year of participation in Richmond’s Amazing Raise.  As it has been from the start, these larger gifts grow from the efforts of just a few people. It is the Network…the friends and family who supported us in 2009…who have helped this vision become a reality. It is the expansion of the Network that helps our vision continue.

Unfortunately, this expansion and visibility in the community has also increased demand for our services. We currently have over 20 families waiting for financial assistance. While we were successful in raising the money for which we budgeted in 2014, our waiting list exceeds our means at this time. We are committed in 2015 to pursue grants and sponsorship funding that will help us achieve (and exceed) our financial goals. Our journey continues and our energy is renewed!

Each year in January, we look fBeth's pics 094or specific ways to honor Charlotte’s memory outside of donations to the foundation. At her memorial service in 2010, we released hundreds of pink and purple balloons into the sky. Watching those bouquets of color reach for the heavens, I was struck at her memorial service by the tangible symbol of support this portrayed. Much like the balloons in Pixar’s Up raised Carl’s home and saved it from imminent destruction, each balloon released by a member of our Network lifted our hearts and our spirits at a time when our grief left us heavy and burdened.  Every year since, we have honored Charlotte’s day of passing (January 7) by releasing a few balloons outside our home with a collection of close friends and family.

In this spirit, the work of the foundation lifts families. We can’t lift their entire house with our offering of help and hope, but we can lift a heart. We can lighten the load of a mother who has spent 10 days in the hospital at her daughter’s side by offering a hot meal. We can ease the worry of a family whose child is facing three years of leukemia treatment by putting $500 towards their mortgage this month.  

This year, we would like to mark the 5th anniversary of Charlotte’s death and the founding of CJSTUF in a slightly different way. Instead of releasing balloons, we are going to light candles. We hope you will join us. Much like the balloon analogy, when we light a candle, we provide a beacon to families in their time of darkness. Perhaps one candle cannot guide a steamship into a safe harbor, but it can lead one family out of the darkness. It can give warmth and guidance along the path for at least a few. And while one candle may not do much, think of the power that we all might have in lighting those candles together. Imagine the glow that 1000 candles could provide on a cold winter night.

Please join us on January 7th, honoring CJ in whatever way feels right to you. If you wish to share (especially on social media), please use the hashtag #Light4CJSTUF in your post. We are active on Facebook and Twitter (@cjstuf).

Thank you, Network, for always being there in our time of need. Everything the last five years has brought to CJSTUF is possible because of your generous spirit.

With love and peace,

Rachel Reynolds
CJSTUF Board Member & Co-Founder
CJ’s Mommy


Family Spotlight: The Hamiltons

CJSTUF caught up with one of our favorite grant recipient families, The Hamilton Family, to talk about how their lives have been impacted by their son Ethan’s diagnosis, treatment, and how CJSTUF has helped make their days just a tiny bit easier.  Even though life is never dull, Ethan’s mom Laura took some time out of her day to answer a few questions for us!

Ethan shares a smile!
Ethan shares a smile!

Can you summarize Ethan’s story for us?

Ethan was born 6 weeks premature with multiple birth defects. At the age of 3 months he had the first of 10 surgeries to repair urological birth defects.  After traveling to three different states, participating in 37 different genetic tests and being a patient at the National Institute of Health, a diagnosis of Mitochondrial Disease Complex I and ATR-X Syndrome was diagnosed.  Both diseases are rare and both limit your lifespan.

How did you learn about CJSTUF?

Our family followed Charlotte’s story through friends and social media.  We became aware of the foundation while attending a birthday party at Romp n Roll in Mechanicsville.  At the time Ethan was almost one and we decided to have a “Birthday Party for CJ”.  Instead of gifts we asked friends and family to make a donation to CJSTUF in honor of Ethan’s first year of life. We were honored to give back to the community but little did we know that one day we would end up benefiting from CJSTUF as a Financial Grant Recipient.

How do you feel CJSTUF has supported your family?

CJSTUF supported our family with financial assistance that allowed us to purchase an iPad.  The iPad has been used for comfort for Ethan during his many hospital visits and appointments. He also has been using it as a learning tool and has helped Ethan improve his communication skills.  Not only did the grant allow our family to purchase something for Ethan to help comfort him but it allowed us to do something for Ethan that was “fun”.  Children with chronic and life threatening illnesses often do not get “extras” because of the extremely high cost of healthcare including medications, equipment and hospital stays.  The grant allowed us to give Ethan a bit of sunshine in a time of dark clouds.

What do you think is the biggest challenge for a family of a child with a story like Ethan’s?

I would say the biggest challenge for a family like ours is dealing with the reality of what our life will be like in the future without our child while living in the present and enjoying the child we have today.

What would be one thing you wish people knew about CJSTUF?

I wish people knew how amazing Charlotte’s parents are.  Not because they had and lost a child with cancer but because out of the terrible pain and loss they made something so beautiful and helpful for other children and their families.

If you are interested in keeping up with Ethan and his family, you can “like” his Facebook Page called “Energy for Ethan.” 

4th Anniversary Of CJSTUF

logo_colorJanuary 6, 2014 marks the 4th anniversary of the official incorporation of CJ’s Thumbs Up Foundation as a tax-exempt 501(C)3 organization.  Four years of helping families of children with chronic and life-threatening illnesses.  Four years of letting frightened parents know that they aren’t alone.

Here are some stats:

120 Financial Assistance Grants awarded in four years totaling $60,000. In 2014, we plan to expand that by at least 40.

Almost 5,000 meals served via Lunch Bunch and Meal Fairies. Again, 2014 will see that number rise substantially.

The Meal Fairies will be expanding in 2014 along with everything else!
The Meal Fairies will be expanding in 2014 along with everything else!

Over $10,000 in emergency financial assistance distributed which ranged from gas cards to help with rent.

We are kind of proud of these numbers but the fact is that it is our generous supporters who have made it all possible. Everyone from the kid who emptied his pockets of change to throw into our jar while we were gift wrapping at Barnes & Noble to the amazing students at Deep Run High School who handed us a check for $10,000 after the Deep Run Marathon Dance to every small donation you’ve made that has added up to so much hope.

Charlotte JennieOf course, we are constantly reminded that without our friends who helped us fill out the documents and prepared our original website, we would be nowhere. Thank you all for allowing us to continue to honor our little butterfly.  We look  forward to  CJSTUF doing amazing things in 2014.  Please keep your eyes open  for the “Bald Chick’s  Rock!” T-shirt sale and Thumbs Up Ball in February, TEAM  CJ at the Ukrop’s Monument Ave  10K, and much more…

Again…thank you,
CJ’s Mommy and Daddy
Rachel and Roger Reynolds

Our Vision

Smiling CJOver the last four years, we have seen CJ’s Thumbs Up Foundation grow in amazing ways.  When we set out to start this organization, our mission was clear.  We wanted to honor Charlotte Jennie’s memory by serving families in their time of need.  We do this through meals (almost 3000 served this year alone) and financial assistance (about $50K given to over 100 families since 2010).  We are serving many needs of the Richmond, VA community and have exceeded our goals every year of our existence.

All of this is made possible through the leadership of our Board and Staff, the work of many volunteers, and the many donations (big and small) that come from YOU, our caring NETWORK.  As proud as we are of everything CJSTUF has accomplished, we are not content. Over the last year, our Board of Directors launched efforts towards a Strategic Plan that will help us go to the next level.

In September, our Board adopted the following Vision statement for our organization:

“We want CJSTUF to be the hub that connects families to

financial, educational, and emotional resources

while they manage their child’s illness.”

In order to accomplish this vision, we must continue the strategic expansion of our current programs while developing opportunities with new partners.

Here are some of the highlights for how we will grow in the coming months:

  • MealfairiesBeginning in 2014, CJSTUF will expand its efforts to serve the needs of families at UVA Health Systems in Charlottesville, VA.  This will start with financial assistance grants but we hope to expand the program with meals and other opportunities as the needs present.
  • As of December, I will step down from my position as Executive Director.  I won’t be going far from the organization.  I hope to continue serving CJSTUF as a Board Member or in other capacities.  Michelle Alford, our current Event Coordinator, will assume the role of Managing Director and Roger will continue to work for the foundation with the new title of Director of Programs. As key program staff for CJSTUF, Michelle and Roger can expand their roles in planning both fundraisers and program services for the organization.
  • We will continue to work with C4 and other Richmond area organizations to coordinate service delivery and support for families at Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU and Ronald McDonald House of Richmond through financial assistance, patient education, and our Meal Fairies program.


Thank you for helping us get this far. Thank you for helping us grow.  Thank you for helping us in our quest to achieve this vision.

Rachel Reynolds
Executive Director & Co-Founder CJSTUF
Mama to CJ




To CJ, on your 8th birthday

Dear CJ,

Today is your birthday. If you were still with us, you would be 8 years old.  As I write this, I realize this means that after this year, you will have spent more time away from us than with us.  We still miss you every day.  Your friends have gotten older.  They are almost unrecognizable as they move up in elementary school.  You never made it to Kindergarten.  I still see you as a four-year-old preschool princess but your friends are going to be in third grade in September.  That is difficult for me to comprehend. I sometimes try to imagine what you would look like as an eight year old. 

When I think about how much we lost when you died, I also think about what you have inspired.  In four years, we have given away over $60,000 to families who need our help. This money goes to kids just like you who need support in their time of need.  Every week for the last year, we have also served meals on the 7th floor at MCV where you spent so much of your time in 2009.  We have supplied almost 3000 meals in a year’s time.  Now we are working with the Ronald McDonald House in Richmond to supply meals and entertainment for families as well. 

Butterfly Get Well Cards made by Troop 19
There is more to the story than the work that CJSTUF does, though.  You have inspired so many people to do good things in the world.  You have inspired Girl Scout troops to make get well cards for kids in the hospital and volunteer their time to help other families.  You have inspired hundreds of people to give donations, big and small, to our organization.  Kids just like you save part of their allowance for us.  Other children (and adults) dedicate their birthday or other special days to our organization so that friends will make donations instead of bringing presents.  People often tell me that your story (our story) has inspired them to appreciate life more fully (even the yucky parts). 

Do you remember Mr. Charlie “I Cry” Taylor who worked with your dad at WHAN Radio? He was the one who named you CJ the DJ when you tagged along in the afternoons to Roger’s radio show.  Well, that nickname was the inspiration of our next big fundraiser.  CJ the DJ’s Bluegrass (Mostly) Boogaloo is going to be a blast! It will be a full day of Bluegrass and Folk/Americana music that will have people of all ages dancing and groovin’.  Yes, dear Charlotte, you continue to be our inspiration.

Today, we will eat one of your favorite foods (pizza) at a CJSTUF fundraiser at California Pizza Kitchen.  We will raise our glasses in a chocolate milk toast and celebrate you and all that you have inspired.  Thank you for choosing us to be your parents.  We will always love you!