Monday, July 16, 2012

Amazing Stories

Our Chick-fil-A Birthday Dinner
As you know, we marked Charlotte's 7th birthday on Monday.  The day included laughter, tears, hugs, an honorary mention on WCVE, dinner at Chick-Fil-A, a chocolate milk toast, and a showing of Finding Nemo. Roger and I were touched by the sweet messages we received as well as the generous donations made to the foundation in her honor that day. 

On Friday morning, I turned to Roger and said, "Wow! It sure has been a long week. Monday seems like a long time ago."  He agreed.  Between the emotional exhaustion at the beginning of the week, the Wine Down event on Wednesday in which we raised $1000 for CJSTUF (hurrah!), and the normal business of our jobs, it had proven to be a very long week, indeed.  

Then came Friday.  I ventured off to my job at the Dominion School and Roger had the opportunity to participate in the Moriah McNeil Celebrity Golf Classic to benefit ReeseStrong.  One of the generous patrons of the organization had bought an extra foursome and donated it for use by dads of pediatric cancer patients.  Roger joined Reese's dad and a few other guys for a beautiful day on the links.  

Roger, Walter Klauer, & Emanuel McNeil
Moriah's dad, Emanuel McNeil, is a former NFL football player. He lost his daughter Moriah to cancer in 2004 and organizes this charity golf tournament every year in her honor.  The proceeds benefit a different children's charity annually.  With these connections, it made sense that quite a few NFL players would be hitting the links.  It wasn't until Roger reached the tournament, however, that he realized some of these guys were the same football players who came and sang Frosty the Snowman to Charlotte on a hot summer day when we were holed up in the ASK clinic for a treatment in 2009.  The visit had been a huge hit with Charlotte and had even been featured on the CBS news (briefly).  As Roger talked about this with the football players, many of them mentioned remembering Charlotte.  Then one guy pulled out his phone and showed us this video.  

He has had this video on his phone since 2009.  Roger was floored! 

In the meantime, among my many meetings of the day, I was scheduled to interview a potential instructional assistant for the Dominion School.  The young lady arrived at the scheduled time and we began to talk about her work history and why she was seeking employment with us.  I asked her to say a little bit about why she liked her job and she told me this story. She works at Build-a-Bear. 

"I really love being able to see the happy faces on the children.  A few years ago, I had the opportunity to work with a family that came into our store.  The little girl was about 3 or 4 years old and she was sick.  She came into the store after hours with her best friend and together they made creations for her, her parents, and her best friend. We were so touched by this little girl and found out a few weeks later that she had passed away.  I still think about her a lot and how we were able to make her happy."
Our creations from Build-a-Bear,
including Frosty the Bad-Ass

As I sat there listening to her story, I realized where this was going.  I was near tears as I listened to her accounting of our very own Build-a-Bear visit.  I was thinking, "Should I say something? Is that appropriate?" Finally, I realized I needed to tell her.  I said, "I hope this doesn't upset you, but I need to let you know, that's my daughter you're talking about." I pointed towards the picture of Charlotte on my desk and the girl's jaw dropped to the floor.  She said, "Oh my goodness! That's her! We have her picture in our office at the store and I still think about her and talk about her all the time!"  We both started crying.  

Eventually, we composed ourselves and carried on with the rest of the interview.  On my way home from work, I got a message from Roger that he had something interesting to tell me.  I told him that I had a great story for him as well.  We met up and recounted these stories to each other in disbelief and amazement.  

I don't always believe in "signs" or messages, but perhaps these simple, touching stories delivered to both Roger and myself on the same day are a way of showing us that Charlotte continues to touch people's lives as much in death as she did in life. Of course, I think of our girl every single day. But it warms my heart in unimaginable ways to realize that she had such a profound impact on people who are virtual strangers.  

That, my friends, is the best birthday present anyone could ask for.  Don't you agree?

Monday, July 9, 2012

This Is Why We're Here

We here at CJ's ThumbsUp Foundation often post photos of financial assistance grants going out in the mail with the caption, "This is why we're here" or publish updates about this event or that, trying to keep everyone energized about the mission of

But that's only part of it.

A large chunk of why this non-profit exists is because of a little girl named Charlotte Jennie who was born on July 9, 2005, seven years ago today.  SHE’S why this thing exists at all.

So many of you already know about Charlotte (CJ) that it seems ridiculously redundant to retell the story but what we will say is that because of this amazing, adorable, courageous, intelligent, curly-haired girl, and the way she charmed everyone she met (still seems to), we are moved to try and keep that energy moving forward.

It is very difficult to think that our little Monkey Butt would have just finished her second year of school, that she would now be swimming or going to camp, that we would be taking trips to see grandparents…

But that’s not the reality with which we’ve been entrusted.

The reality is that at any one time there might be upwards of 70 families of children receiving treatment on the 7th floor of VCU/Children’s Hospital of Richmond and so many others moving through the various outpatient clinics.

The reality is that we just sent out 10 more Financial Assistance Grants totaling $5,000 and that just barely brought us even with demand FOR NOW.

The reality is that there are many, many other parents, grandparents, siblings, and caregivers all struggling to keep it together right now, at this very moment, through the worst nightmare imaginable.

The reality is that, because of Charlotte’s inspiration, upon which we draw every day, you have been moved to support our mission which, in turn, gives us a very strong coping mechanism allowing us to face each day as it comes.  Please believe it when we say that some days the act of getting out of bed seems like more than we can bear.

Today is one of those days.  But we WILL get out of bed because of Charlotte and what this Foundation has become to those who have built it and to those who have benefitted from it (some of the same people fit into both categories).

So Rachel will go to her first day of school at The Dominion School For Autism as principal and Roger will meet donors and do his show at WHAN Radio.  Many will raise a chocolate milk toast and watch Mary Poppins or Finding Nemo or Lady and the Tramp or one of her other favorite movies (she had several).  A listen to the Curious George Soundtrack is in order as well. Or giving "five" to Snook from "Big, Big World."

Hopefully all will be inspired to be more than they are right now and keep growing from there.

This is why we’re here.

Happy Birthday, Baby Girl.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

From Laughter to WINE-ing and Back to Tears

First the laughter…

We definitely know that laughter is very therapeutic.  And slightly lucrative for non-profits. Rachel and I have become involved with ComedySportz Improv Theatre of Richmond and throughout the month of June, they let CJSTUF take over during halftime of every show in order to play “Stick The Butterfly To The Flower.”  People bought little paper butterflies with sticky dots on them for a few bucks and for some crazy reason, allowed us to blindfold them.  Then they tried to stick the butterflies to a big flower on the wall.  The butterfly that ended up closest to one of the numbers on the flower won a prize.

Just that little game garnered over $300 for CJSTUF.

On top of that, during the last weekend of June, $2 of every ticket for the Friday night and Saturday early shows were donated to CJSTUF.  We don’t have a final tally yet but we’re confident that overall, we raised enough to help one family.  Thanks ComedySpotrz!

Now for the WINE-ing…

This month, our Business Of The Month is really only it for one day but it’s a doosie!  Kate Hall over at has developed a tremendous relationship with the Wine Loft in Short Pump and the first Wednesday of every month is what’s called the Wine Down where a local non-profit benefits from ticket sales, raffles, and other donations.  They’ve raised as much as $900 during these events and the last time CJSTUF was the beneficiary of a Wine Down, it was the largest event they had had up to that point.  We’re hoping to set another record on the 11th.  It is certainly possible because this year, an anonymous donor has offered to match donations if over $500 is raised at the event.  How's that for incentive?

Yeah, it’s not the first Wednesday but the whole July 4th thing got in the way.

Tickets are $10 and include a raffle ticket (more available for $1 each), appetizers, and discounted wine.
The Wine Loft of Richmond is located at 4035 Whittall Way, Glen Allen, VA 23060 right next to Spirited Art (which just happens to have been our BOTM for May).  Festivities will get underway at 6:30 and you are strongly encouraged to arrive early.

Time for the BONUS ROUND!

Rachel has surpassed the 1200 vote mark in her quest to repeat as an Eagle Rare Life grant winner.  This year the grand prize has been increased to $30,000 to be donated to the charity of the winner’s choice and we feel confident that we can win it this year.  Last year’s secondary prize is helping to fund the new Lunch Bunch at MCV/Children’s Hospital Of Richmond for which CJSTUF has partnered with Connor’s Heroes Foundation and local restaurants to provide meals for the families of children receiving treatment on the 7th floor of VCU’s Children’s Hospital of Richmond.  $30,000 would take care of a lot of meals.
People can vote once every 24 hours here.  Please set your alarms and spread the word.

So we come back to the tears.  It always seems to happen about every 6 months and July is very tough for us.  This 4th of July weekend, we are traveling to Tennessee to visit my dad and have something of a small family reunion.  Rachel also has two book signings this weekend in Morristown at JavaGarden on Saturday and my dad’s church on Sunday (gotta take the opportunities when they happen).  Then we head back to Richmond to face the 9th and think about our beautiful baby girl on her 7th Birthday.

With every success that comes to CJSTUF, we are given a little solace.  The latest drop comes from knowing that because of Rachel’s initial book sales, we’ve been able to fund one family’s financial assistance grant.  That’s YOU, Network.  Because you have purchased books, because you voted Rachel into an Eagle Rare Life Award grant, because you donate what you can, when you can, we are able to fulfill our Mission which helps us to deal with things like July 9 and allows us think of Charlotte without curling up into
a fetal position.

And speaking of fulfilling the CJSTUF Mission, 10 Financial Assistance Grants totaling ($5,000) went out in the mail today.  You again.

So thank you for the world’s largest coping mechanism.  Thanks for just being there for us.

Don’t forget to love on your children.

I’ll take that glass of wine now.