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.

10kmealfairies

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

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.

#Light4CJSTUF

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

 

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

 

 

 

The Evolving Meal Fairies Program

“Food, glorious food!  Eat right through the menu!” – Oliver

 

2013-07-18 11.38.57 It’s amazing what you DON’T think about when a health crisis hits; especially when it’s  your child having the health crisis.  One of the many things we learned when  Charlotte was diagnosed with cancer was that, as a parent, food for ourselves was  absolutely the last thing we considered on our list of priorities.  After speaking with  many other parents and caregivers in similar situations, we have found it to be a  consistent sentiment.

 

For us, hospital stays meant eating lots of fast food, vending machine junk, or the  entire lasagna that the neighbor brought over.  So when it came time to start giving  back/paying it forward through CJ’s Thumbs Up Foundation, we decided healthy(ish)  meals were a way to start and the “Meal Fairies” program was born.  The Meal Fairies began by offering something of a “telephone tree” kind of system where news of a child’s health crisis was spread and we would try to get someone to run food over to the hospital or their house so that they would have one less thing on their “worry list.”  It only worked passably and we knew there were many more families NOT getting the nourishment they needed.  Something more needed to be done.

LunchBunch260x260

 

We approached Heather Kinney in the Child Life Department of Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU (where Charlotte received the majority of her treatment) to arrange for meals to be served once a month up on the 7th floor pediatric wing of the Main Hospital.  We teamed up with Connor’s Heroes Foundation to get everything organized/approved through the hospital and on Thursday, June 28, 2011, the “Lunch Bunch” served it’s first meal to around 50 parents and caregivers.

 

As CJSTUF continued to grow financially, we were able to increase the Thursday meals to a weekly occurrence (including an AMAZING Thanksgiving meal from Homemades By Suzanne) and by the end of 2012, we had served 1177 meals!

 

The Lunch Bunch has continued as a weekly program ever since, offering not only healthy meals to the residents of the 7th floor but a great way for CJSTUF and CHF to directly communicate with many families within our scope of service.  As of the end of August, The Lunch Bunch had served 2422 meals in 2013, which puts us on pace to triple the number of meals served from last year.

 

Our latest Meal Fairies project is serving occasional Tuesday evening meals at Ronald McDonald House of Richmond.  After staying at the RMH in Houston and seeing the wonderful meals provided by area businesses and churches, we know how much it is appreciated.  So far, we have participated in 4 nights and already have many more planned for the future.  We also hope to expand this service to other hospitals and cities starting early next year.

 

The future for CJSTUF’s Meal Fairies is extremely bright and we are excited at the prospect of increasing the number of families we can help both financially and with the occasional healthy meal.

 

Thanks to the generous discounts provided by our food vendor sponsors such as Pepicelli’s Pizza, Christopher’s Runaway Gourmay, Au Bon Pain, and the aforementioned Homemades By Suzanne, we can serve 70-100 people for about $300 a week.  These weekly expenses, plus the staff required to facilitate meal distribution and visit with the families, add up quickly.

You can continue to help The Meal Fairies in various ways:

1)      On Thursday, September 18, a 36-hour fundraising spectacle called The Amazing Raise will take place.  Hosted by The CommunityAmazingRaiseLogo Foundation in Richmond, it will include dozens of local tax-exempt organizations, including CJSTUF, vying for your donations of $25-50 in order to win thousands of dollars in bonus prizes.

Two of those bonus prizes are called the “Lunch Breaks” and will run from 12-2pm on both Sep 18th and 19th.  The organization that receives the most donations of $25 or more during this time will get an extra $1000 bonus grant.  A portion of donations we receive from the Amazing Raise during these times will directly benefit the Meal Fairies program.  You can pledge your support for this program today! We will help with the rest.

2)      Volunteer to help cook or provide food for dinners at Ronald McDonald House of Richmond.  We are allowed to either bring in a catered meal or cook the meal itself in their newly renovated (and, might I add, super gorgeous!) kitchen.  Well supervised “younger assistants” are allowed and welcomed. Dates available for volunteering are: Sep. 10th and then Oct. 1, 22, and 29.  Please contact Roger at roger@cjstuf.org.

3)      Join the growing crowd of regular supporters who contribute through weekly or monthly payroll deductions sent directly to CJSTUF.  Many companies will match your donations.  Ask your Human Resources department.

 

As always, thank you for your tremendous support and please remember: It’s not just food…it’s hope.

 

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!

Meeting the need

When we set out to start CJSTUF, it was with the hope that we could capture some of the amazing energy that enveloped us during our time of need.  Roger and I knew what it felt like to be stuck in a hospital for days (or weeks) on end.  We knew about the financial stresses that grew out of chronic illness. We knew what it was like to rely on medical experts and advice for the health and well-being of your child.  At a time like that, everyone could use a helping hand.

Over the past three years, the community has responded with kindness and generosity beyond our wildest dreams.  We continue to support families in need through a quarterly distribution of financial assistance grants.  This past week, we sent seven more $500 grants to families in the greater Richmond community.

We know these grants are needed and welcomed.  Just before sending out the latest batch, I received a letter in the mail from a recipient of our first quarter grant distribution:

card“The financial blessing I received was truly heaven sent. I was down to my last and I had just called my sister, telling her I didn’t know how I was going to make it and I know the Lord heard my prayer! I have been unemployed since June 2011 and my mother’s cancer came back and I have been trying to run two households.  Every day I have been going back and forth to Richmond [a 90 minute drive]. Thanks again and may God bless you and your organization for helping someone such as me and my family. My son is doing well and we have not had any problems with the new heart.” –TB

Did you catch that? A new heart! This little 9-year old boy recently received a heart transplant and is also waiting for new kidneys as he fights end-stage renal disease.  So much for one family to take in!

As our support has grown, we have gone from a waiting list of over a dozen families in 2011 to meeting the need in our Greater Richmond area as we serve families who receive care at any Children’s Hospital of Richmond location.

Are we going to stop there? No way!  

I am excited to report that CJSTUF is getting ready to spread its wings and explore new territories! Before the end of the year, we hope to announce a new opportunity to reach out to families in a new geographic area of Virginia.  We can’t say more until we have official information but this is what we know for sure: we can’t do this alone.  We are meeting the need in the greater Richmond community thanks to your generosity.

 

 

 

Time For The Annual Posting Of The Disney Letter

I actually neglected to do this when I should have but today is “First Surgery Day” and I needed something inspirational.

MAW Trip CJ and Mickey and Minnie
Charlotte, Mickey, & Minnie

 

Feb. 10, 2010
Disney World Corp.
Magic Kingdom Guest Services
311 World Drive
Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830

Dear All At Disney World,

I’m sure you receive letters like this frequently enough that you don’t really need me to write you another one but it is very important to us that you know about our trip and the events leading up to it.

On January 20, 2009, while Barack Obama was taking the oath of office, I was in a hospital emergency room with my then 3-year old daughter Charlotte Jennie learning that she had a very large tumor in her brain. We were admitted to MCV in Richmond, VA that day, she had a full MRI the next morning, and had her first of four brain surgeries on Thursday, Jan. 22.

We have chronicled our experience on http://www.CJSTUF.org so I won’t go into too much excruciating detail about that.

In the spring, we were approved for a Make-A-Wish trip. When asked what she would do if she could do anything in the world, she answered, “Go where the princesses are.” (Meaning Disney World, of course). We were planning to go possibly after the first of the year, after the majority of her current treatments were finished but in November we learned the worst. After all the surgeries, chemo, and radiation, the tumor was still growing. And it had moved to the brainstem. We were out of options and it was the opinion of our medical team that we needed to think in terms of weeks and not months.

The main goal in all of our lives was refocused to getting Charlotte to Disney World as soon as possible while she could still enjoy it. We contacted our local MAW chapter and they got on it, securing us a week at Give Kids The World Village Starting Dec. 1.

We arrived safe and sound and headed off to the Magic Kingdom the next day (Wednesday, Dec. 2). We were told the Disney staff would offer extra help to MAW families. We had no idea how deep Disney’s commitment to MAW would be. We were ushered to the front of lines all day and given preferential treatment everywhere we went. Characters went out of their way to visit with us and cast members seemed to seek us out to ask if we needed anything. We felt very well cared for.

Topping the list of amazing events for us were the character visits with Mickey and Minnie and then with the Faries Silvermist, Tinkerbell, and Rosetta. We arrived at the area to see Mickey and Minnie in the morning and toured both of their houses first. When we walked into the “barn,” it was almost an accident. This was our first experience with bypassing the long lines and we couldn’t believe it when we were actually walking into the room with Mickey and Minnie after waiting less than 10 minutes.

The visit was wonderful and both Mickey and Minnie conveyed to us, even without words, the care and concern they felt for us with extra long hugs for Mommy and Daddy from Minnie and multiple extra firm handshakes from Mickey as if he was trying to let us know through the glove how much he sympathized.

Charlotte was doted upon and given more time to be with them than I ever thought would be possible. We walked out on a cloud.

Not thinking we could top that for the entire trip (and it was the FIRST thing we did on the FIRST day there), we headed up to see what there was further in the park. We eventually found ourselves at the Fairies and Princesses venue and since we were having lunch at Cinderella’s Castle (generously donated by a friend), we decided to see the Fairies. The sign for wait times was set at 45-min but we got to go in the “other” way, which had us waiting about ten.

The following events are etched into our brains forever and we will keep them close for as long as we live.

As we neared the room where the fairies were waiting, we got Charlotte out of her chair and had her walk in. I held her hand as she was rather unsteady. She was greeted by Silvermist, who took her other hand and began to lead her over to a large flower to discuss the color similarities between the petals and CJ’s pink tutu. As Silvermist took her hand, Charlotte immediately let go of mine and totally forgot about us. It was as if she and Silvermist were best friends from long ago. It was truly magical! We had a video camera but seeing CJ so incredibly happy after all she had to endure made us completely forget to tape anything! It’s ok. We got lots of photos. We just watched and cried as Silvermist called Tinkerbell and Rosetta over to discuss matters of great import like what talent Charlotte might have. I believe they decided she had multiple talents.

Charlotte lovin’ on Tink

Tinkerbell was Charlotte’s absolute favorite and they got to spend a lot of time together. CJ told her about all the other fairies and what they all did. All three fairies were so amazingly attentive and gentle with her. All the while we never felt hurried or pushed into leaving. Charlotte got to spend as much time as she wanted with them and when we finally left, we knew we had experienced something very special.

It wasn’t even noon yet. Did I mention this was the first day?

The next major thing was lunch at Cinderella’s Castle after a quick visit with Ariel (CJ’s absolute favorite princess!) in her grotto. I think I was looking forward to the lunch as much as anyone. When we walked in, Cinderella was greeting people in the front room and, of course, we were ushered right up to her. Charlotte had a wonderful visit with her and soon after, we were called up for our table.

This was another wonderful experience. The princesses all came in and made the rounds and CJ was in heaven! One humorous part was that when Belle (another of Charlotte’s favorites) came around, it was the exact moment the food arrived. CJ was very hungry and that hotdog was calling to her but at the same time, here was Belle! I’m sorry to say Belle didn’t get nearly the reception she would have normally received.

By the way, the food was divine!

CJ crashed after that and we headed back to GKTW for the rest of the day.

Day 2: (Thursday, Dec 3) We basically retraced our steps and did the exact same thing in the morning. Some cousins who came up from south Florida joined us. We toured Mickey and Minnie’s houses and got to see them again. This time we were in a different room but with the same results. They were wonderful again. Mickey pulled out a new trick and made his nose wiggle which CJ found very amusing. Again with the long visit and the extra care and everything. Oy! It was great.

The wait for the fairies was over an hour this time. We only waited 10 minutes again. Mommy was also ready with the video camera and it was rolling when Charlotte walked in. We were greeted by the same Rosetta who was there the day before. The first word out of Rosetta’s mouth was, “Charlotte!” The fact that she remembered CJ and the things they had talked about took our breath away. Again, it was like old friends getting together.

Rosetta was very cool and made sure the other fairies (the same Tinkerbell but a different Silvermist, we think) knew that CJ had been there before. “Hey look, it’s Charlotte who was here yesterday, REMEMBER?!? (hint, hint)”

It was another magical visit and this time Rosetta got the lion’s share of Charlotte’s attention. They were nuzzling forehead to forehead and talking quietly about the things the fairies and princesses do. I felt such a strong sense of affection between CJ and all the fairies and I can only think that they show the same to all the guests who come through.

Later in the trip, we went to Animal Kingdom and got to see Finding Nemo, The Musical. Charlotte was very tired and had been just lounging in her chair for most of the morning but as soon as the performance began, she was attentive, alert and watched the whole thing sitting up on my lap. We all particularly loved the bit with the penguins! It was very funny and penguins were CJ’s favorite birds.

One last item of note was when we went to Rafiki’s after the safari. Rafiki was greeting kids when we rolled in and his assistant told us he was just getting ready to go on break, which was fine since there weren’t that many people around and we had just arrived. We figured we’d talk to him when he came back out. Well, he caught sight of us and made a bee-line for Charlotte. I don’t think he got much of a break that time.

It is a testament to the talent and training of all the cast members that we had such an amazing trip. I sincerely hope they know that their job means much more to people like us than they could ever possibly imagine. It is evident even in the elderly street sweeper I met outside the bathrooms who showed me his very efficient technique for scooping up little bits of things. It was kind of cool and it stuck with me enough for me to mention here.

Charlotte Jennie Reynolds passed on Thursday, January 7, 2010 at home surrounded by stories, music, and love. It was a beautiful passing and Disney was a part of it.

I can’t imagine that this letter might make it’s way to the specific cast members with whom we came in contact but if so, please let them know that they have touched our lives and become permanent pieces or our memories forever. I’m sure they do it everyday and yet might not realize their impact.

Sincerely,
Roger and Rachel Reynolds (Charlotte Jennie’s daddy and mommy)
http://www.CJSTUF.org

 

Continue reading “Time For The Annual Posting Of The Disney Letter”

We Still Mourn, But It’s Different

It never really ends.  We think about our beautiful baby girl every day; several times a day.  Sometimes it’s pretty much constant.

Our adorable little ladybug

Take Wednesday, October 31 for example.  Throughout the day, as many of our friends and family were posting photos of their kids’ costumes and discussing preparations for the evening’s festivities, we were constantly reminded of the four Halloweens we were fortunate enough to spend with Charlotte.  One of our strongest memories is of Charlotte’s second Halloween when she dressed as a ladybug and was quite possibly the cutest thing that EVER walked this Earth!  We took her to Randolph-Macon College to trick or treat in the dorms and it was so amazing to watch her figure out that when she knocked on doors and babbled something, the smitten students would give her stuff.  It was the first time I felt that parental melancholy that comes with knowing she’ll never be this small again.

This year, we set up our traditional table out by the street and had a great time handing out goodies and seeing all the kids and great costumes; all the while thinking of our little peanut.

CJ on Election Day 2008

Or take Tuesday, November 6.  Election Day.  This was always a BIG day for us.  Both of Rachel and I were determined to teach Charlotte about the democratic process and to encourage her to develop her own voice on whatever issues she would face as she grew into an adult.  We always brought her with us when we voted, even in the local elections.  I would schedule my day around when I would be able to take Charlotte to the polling place and often she would “vote” twice in a day.

She filled our thoughts as we participated in the 2012 election.

And now we head into the Holiday Season and a new round of memories are poised to take over, keeping the mourning front and center.

It never really ends.

And yet, it’s a little different now.  There are more of those good moments.  Like last Thursday at the Lunch Bunch which CJSTUF  facilitates at Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU in conjunction with Connor’s Heroes Foundation.  The food was catered by Christopher’s Runaway Gormay (SO yummy!) and we served 71 people a good, moderately healthy meal when they might have had to visit the vending machines or resort to paying for fast food downstairs.  We know from experience that is something families should NOT have to deal with while facing a child’s health crisis.

We also meet new friends every time we serve meals which lets them know about resources and provides us more reason to continue to expand the program.


Then there was November 10.  I ran the American Family Fitness Half-Marathon (part of the Richmond Marathon) and Rachel did a book signing at an arts and craft show where she sold some books and connected with several supporters.

Saturday morning, I almost decided not to do the half-marathon at all since I had popped something in my knee last Monday and it had been hurting all week.  I wasn’t sure if I could even finish the race.  Then, of course, when I thought of Charlotte and what all the other families have endured, I put my whining away and suited up.

Good thing I did because it was probably the most fulfilling race I’ve ever run!  I got a lot of extra motivation right at the start line when I saw a man wearing a t-shirt that read, “13.1 Is Still Easier Than Chemo.” Amen, dude.

Throughout the event, my mind was full of thoughts of Charlotte and so many others whose paths we’ve crossed.  I thought of Abbie Waters as I passed her old school, I thought of CJ’s Godparents as I passed their house, I thought of the Klauers, the Goodmans, the Hubbels…lots of others.  I met a woman within the the first two miles from Newport News who was running her first half and only the third time, “in front of people.”  I fell in with a small group of people at around the halfway point, many of whom just happened to have leg and knee issues.  There was a lot of self deprecating humor being passed around but we all finished!  And all along the way, were the occasional shout-outs to CJ’s Daddy (on my bib) or Team CJ (on the shirt) or people who recognized me and shouted encouragement. I can’t tell you how much that helps!

Kristin Mudd’s Funky Shoes
Kristin’s Funky Shoes Flipside

I finished (the main goal!) in about 2 hours and 40 minutes, the knee held out, and crossing the finish line, I let out a “WHOOP” like I never have before.  It was a great moment.  Then I caught up to Kristin Mudd and her funky shoes!  It was her first half EVER!  Kudos to her.

And CJSTUF continues to grow.  Thanks very much to Rachel’s very capable Executive Directorship, our wonderful board, and support from the Network, we are having a tremendous year of fundraising and providing resources to our families.  We just had a very productive Strategic Planning Session and we have homework to do, after which, we will be ready to take a step up to the next level of operation for 2013 and beyond.

At Positive Vibe Cafe

So the therapy continues and, quite possibly, it’s working.  Maybe.  Just a little.

The Week Of Chaos!

As Childhood Cancer Awareness Month continues, we are having another typical week in the life of CJSTUF.org!  Lot’s of stuff going on.

1) Groupon Grassroots:  Recently, we were awarded a Groupon Grassroots Campaign during which $10 donations are taken to help fund one Lunch Bunch meal for the families being treated up on the 7th floor of Children’s Hospital of Richmond  (This is our meal program for which we have teamed up with Connor’s Heroes Foundation). The campaign is live through Sept. 23rd and is taking $10 donations right now. The “tipping point” is $300. It’s difficult to imagine that we wouldn’t reach that amount but if somehow we don’t, then the funds raised up to that point are not distributed and no one’s credit card will be charged. If nothing else, we get exposure and experience.
If  the tipping point is reached, which it will, then the Lunch Bunch is guaranteed one more event.  We hope we end up with several.
2) The Amazing Raise: This is an exciting, 36-hour fundraising event being hosted by The Community Foundation/GiveRichmond.org.  It begins Wednesday, Sept. 19 at 6:00AM (we’ll post the link as soon as we possibly can after it goes live at 6:00:01AM) and ends the next day at 6:00PM.  There are MANY creative ways to win matching funds and CJSTUF will be aiming for three specifically.
The first is the 50/50 Early Bird Match.  The first 15 organizations (and there are dozens) that receive 50 unique donations of $50 will receive $2,500 matching grants from the Community Foundation (That’s FIVE families helped).  So please plan to wake up early and help us capitalize on this opportunity.
The second is called “Midnight Madness.”  Simply put, the donation (of at least $25) that comes in closest to midnight on Wed night will receive an extra $1,000 (2 families).  We will be having a wildly fun karaoke party at ComedySportz in Richmond starting at 10:00PM and when midnight approaches, we will countdown to zero and get everyone to push the “send” buttons as close to 12:00 as possible.  YOU are invited.  Come stay up late on a school night.  You know you’ve always wanted to!
The third focal area is the “Lunch Break” on Thursday 12:00PM-2:00PM.  The organization that receives the most unique donations of $25 or more within that time frame will win $1,000 (2 more families helped).  We will be lunching at Pepicelli’s Pizza in Ashland during that time and any donations that come in throughout the Lunch Break will be applied to the Lunch Bunch.  (Pepi’s, by the way, just happens to be CJSTUF’s Business Of The Month for September; another great reason to come in!)
There is a fourth area that we think we could win and that’s the Long Distance Donor Award.  The donation that comes in from the farthest point on the planet (determined by billing address of the card used) will earn the non-profit $1,000 (2 MORE families)  The Network is pretty widespread and if the right people donate (all you in Europe,  New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Malaysia, Africa, China, Korea, etc… know who you are!), we could win that one as well.
Last year was our first experience with the Amazing Raise and with very little effort, you helped us raise just over $1,000 (2 families).  This year, if we win only one of the contests at which we’re aiming, we’ll more than double that.
3 and 4) Rachel still continues to hold her own in the two voting-based contests.  The Eagle Rare Life contest has her at 4732 at this writing and we have no way of knowing how well she’s doing in the Lady Godiva Program.  Just keep voting every 24 hours and we’ll let you know something when we do.
5) The “Every Day Is A Bonus” Fall Art Auction is coming up on Friday October 19th.  We’ve already started receiving reservations and artist donations, some of which are pretty amazing.  There will be live and silent auctions featuring paintings, photographs, children’s art, stained glass art, arts services and an interactive experience where live artists will be creating pieces right there in front of everyone. And don’t forget the chocolate dessert bar! If you’d like to reserve your place, click here.
6) Did we mention that Pepicelli’s Pizza is the Business Of The Month for September?  We won’t have a BOTM for October due to the Art Auction.  We’ll let you know about Nov. and Dec. as we get closer.  This post is long enough already!
We’ll rest in January.