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Charity strives to bring joy to lives of children stricken with cancer

Community ProfileCharity strives to bring joy to lives of children stricken with cancer

Since 1987, Help a Child Smile (HACS) has provided support to close to 2,000 families whose children have been treated for cancer at the McMaster Children’s Hospital.

Joyce Hutson, who is the chair of HACS, explained how the charity was started.

“It was a mother by the name of Lynda Rainville out of the Welland area who started it. Her daughter, Kayce-Lynn, was diagnosed with cancer and was being treated at McMaster. During the treatment, Kayce-Lynn asked her parents if she could go to Canada’s Wonderland,” explained Hutson. “Her parents decided to take her but also reached out to other parents in the hospital to see if their kids wanted to come too. So, they held a fundraiser and ended up raising enough money to send two busloads of kids, their parents and families, down to Wonderland for a day. And that’s how it all started.”

Although Kayce-Lynn would lose her battle, Lynda Rainville decided to continue and help other families in similar situations.

“All the money we raise goes directly to help the families because when a child is diagnosed, it also affects the entire family…We provide things like games and crafts for the kids to do while they’re at the hospital to help them be entertained. We also work with the parent support group and [organize] teen group outings and bereavement counseling, through the hospital. That was our main focus, but we also cover parking for the families while their child is in treatment, which we have set a budget of $50,000 a year for,” Hutson explained. “We have planned trips where families can go to African Lion Safari, Disney on Ice and Canada’s Wonderland. We also have a family picnic and a fishing derby where the families can get together outside of the hospital…these events and outings help to strengthen the bonds between these families with each other during their children’s treatments at the hospital.”

Noelle Austin and her family benefitted from the support of ‘Help A Child Smile’ during and after her cancer treatments. Photo courtesy Help a Child Smile.

Hutson became involved with the organization when her own granddaughter was diagnosed in 2008.

“Caitlin spent over a year in treatment [and] during that time we got to know all about HACS and what they did and we were thankful for all of their help. When she passed away our family decided to do something in her memory to raise funds, so we started a golf tournament and called it the ‘Caitlyn Classic.’ While we were doing that and other fundraisers, I got to know some of the HACS board members. They then asked to come on the board [and since] then I held several positions [and] I’m currently the chair of the board now,” stated Hutson.

Although HACS continues to successfully maintain its vision of helping families and their children affected by cancer, it still relies heavily on public support.

“We don’t have any government funding [nor] any corporate sponsors. All of our revenues, that cover our budget, which is roughly $200,000 a year, comes from donations and fundraisers as well as help from our volunteers,” Hutson expanded. “A few years ago we had an audit, and it showed that 93.7% of our income went directly back to help the families [and] we’re proud of that.”

Help a Child Smile maintains its vision through the generous support of the community via fundraisers and donations. Almost all of the revenue they raise go to pay for family events and support programs. Photo courtesy Help a Child Smile.

Along with Hutson, the board, as well as its volunteers and families, many people have contributed to build on the legacy of HACS including Sandra Allen, who was president for many years before her passing in 2014.

“She was a cancer mom [and] her daughter is a success story. She survived cancer and she’s now a high school teacher here in Brantford. [However,] Allan was our chair for ten years and was involved with HACS for over 20 years,” Hutson recalled. “She’s the one who asked me to come on board. When she passed away very suddenly, we decided to honor her by creating these scholarships in her name.”

Sandra Allen served on the Board of Directors for Help A Child Smile for over 20 years. For 10 years of those years, she was the Chair and played a vital role in developing various programs. She passed away 2014, and her memory is kept alive with the Sandra Allen Memorial Education Award which helps deserving youth in their post-secondary education. Photo courtesy Help a Child Smile.

HACS has been a part of the lives of many families throughout the years and has made an enduring impact on them. Noelle Austin, who’s a cancer survivor, wrote an inspiring speech about her experience, in 2015. Here is an excerpt:

“I would like to raise awareness of Help A Child Smile and all of the wonderful things they do for families affected by childhood cancer because kids can’t fight cancer alone…I was a typical 3-year-old preschooler when I was diagnosed with stage 4 Embryonal Rhabdomyosarcoma. My parents really had no idea what was going on, aside from my tummy getting bigger.  I was sent for testing and was quickly referred to McMaster’s Children’s Hospital, where I was diagnosed and had two major surgeries in less than a week…The plan for my treatment was 54 weeks of chemo and 5 weeks of radiation as my cancer was extremely aggressive.  The treatment beat me up and it took nearly two years for me to get through it…My treatment was tough on me. I had an amazing team of doctors at McMaster Oncology, Cardiology, Endocrinology, and Gastro that I still visit routinely.  And I am completely thankful to Help A Child Smile for allowing me to feel like a normal kid and have normal kid days.”

Aside from managing some setbacks especially related to the pandemic, Hutson and her team have drawn tremendous support across communities, however, the HACS continues to look for volunteers to continue its important initiatives.  

“It’s been a bit of a roller coaster ride, especially since some COVID that when we were no longer allowed to have in-person fundraisers, [but] we have had a pretty strong support base in each of the communities including Brantford, Hamilton, and the Welland-Niagara area,” Hutson said. “There are so many ways people can help us like being a volunteer at an event or holding one themselves. We have had kids who put up lemonade stands in the summertime [and] parents who have done car washes and yard sales. There are so many different ways to become involved and help us.”

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