When he was 9 years old, Dan Belhumeur was diagnosed with cancer. He spent two years battling leukemia, but says most of his memories from that time are positive, thanks in large part to the support of The Tomorrow Fund.
Nineteen years later, Belhumeur is vice president of the Board of Directors, and Tomorrow Fund supporters say that sense of community fostered by the organization is what has made it successful.
“We really are a family,” said Executive Director Barbara Ducharme. “We have such a turnaround; these kids do so well that they actually come back to serve in whatever capacity they can. They help to put us on the map.”
On Saturday, many of those “kids” returned as adult donors and volunteers at the 24th annual Fantasy Ball. The event, themed “A Night in Rio,” featured dinner, dancing and a silent auction that attracted 730 people to Rhodes on the Pawtuxet – not including volunteers.
“It was a beautiful night,” Ducharme said, estimating that fundraising total could surpass $250,000 when all is said and done. “We’ve surpassed all monetary goals. I think, despite the economy, we had an outpouring of support from both the corporate and the individual community.”
Ducharme says the support of businesses and individuals can be largely attributed to the families The Tomorrow Fund supports. Those children and their families, she said, become outspoken advocates for the independent charity that, despite misconceptions to the contrary, does all of its own fundraising and receives no financial support from the Lifespan network.
“The families of our children who have created this destiny, they spread the word,” she said. “As we serve more and more families, it becomes a network; it’s wonderful.”
While families serve as ambassadors in the community, they also support one another as they deal with the challenges that come from having a child with cancer. The parental support from families who have already gone through that struggle stands out for Belhumeur as one of the most important benefits his family received from The Tomorrow Fund.
“It really helps,” he said. “It’s not just for the kids, it’s for the families.”
In addition to providing parent supports, The Tomorrow Fund does outreach to siblings of children with cancer, helping them cope with the stress down to little things like providing them with games and books to entertain them as they spend days in hospital waiting rooms. There are approximately 400 families connected to The Tomorrow Fund, with 100 in active treatment at any given time.
For families, The Tomorrow Fund offers financial support. They cover all the bases, from paying for hospital parking to offering a daily stipend to cover food, gas and housing costs.
Those services were vital to the Belhumeur family, as it allowed them to focus on Dan. Dan’s father spent every night with him, never leaving his side, and he recalls his family’s constant presence during his two years of treatment.
“My family was always around. Most of my memories from that period are good because I was able to spend a lot of time with my father,” Belhumeur said.
Belhumeur’s father went on to serve on The Tomorrow Fund Board of Directors for years, first as the treasurer and later as the president for 10 years. Once Belhumeur was in remission, his entire family joined the cause.
“My family and sisters, we basically have been volunteering and giving our time or effort or whatever we could give since I was able to. It was important to me to pay it forward,” he said.
In fact, Tomorrow Fund events are often the best way for the Belhumeur family to get together.
And they are not alone. The non-profit has a long list of volunteers, not to mention businesses that support the organization through donations and auction items. Saturday’s auction featured more than 300 items, including a day on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, a New England Patriots Christmas Eve game package, art, photography packages and jewelry, just to name a few. Each year, Coventry High School’s Regional Career and Technology Center provides an auction item as well, and this year created a cedar shingled shed for the event.
Tomorrow Fund staff and volunteers solicit auction items and donations for the Fantasy Ball from March to October, and saw contributions spike this year.
“We appeal for corporate support and this year our corporate support was in excess of $225,000,” Ducharme said. “I think people are always generally concerned for children and especially children with cancer.”
For more information on The Tomorrow Fund, visit www.tomorrowfund.org.