While students brace themselves for final exams, Friends of Assistance Support Kindness at VCU (FASK) members are focused on donating time, money and gifts to their “Adopt a Family” program this holiday season.
FASK collaborates with Richmond’s ASK Childhood Cancer Foundation to provide financial, spiritual, social and emotional support to more than 1,000 children and their families annually. The organization serves children with cancer and their families in the greater Richmond area by making Halloween goodie bags, providing home cooked dinners, and running fundraisers.
The most well-known event, “Adopt a Family,” takes place annually around the holiday season. Every year, a Christmas wish-list is posted and donations are given and to a family in need involved with the Massey Cancer Foundation.
President and founder Rachel Balow started the program last year after she was inspired by a patient she met at VCU Medical Center’s Pediatric Hematology and Oncology Clinic.
“I began working at the clinic as a volunteer there when I was a first semester freshman. I quickly became so enveloped in the lives and struggles of the kids I was working with, that I felt compelled to do more,” Balow said in an email “I started FASK after a young man I met on my first day passed away suddenly. We decided to participate in ‘Adopt a Family’ to benefit the younger brother, Deonte, who had the same disease (sickle cell anemia).”
This year, the Winters family was selected for the “Adopt a Family” cause. The family travels from Warsaw, Va. to the cancer clinic here in Richmond to receive treatment for their youngest son, Sebastian, 5, a patient with stage three Nueroblastoma, an aggressive, malignant cancer that develops in nerve tissue. It usually occurs in infants and children.
His mother, Nina, said she appreciates all of the help FASK gives her family.
“It affects him terribly. His white cell counts and platelets drop dramatically and he usually has to be admitted to the hospital because he has a fever. Sebastian just wants it all out,” Winters said in a press release. “He wants to play with his sister, Kathleen, 8, and has been worried since day one about dying. I appreciate kindly what everyone is doing for my son, because it shows that there are still people that care– hopefully one day I can give back.”
Winters is trying to offset costs and seek the extensive treatment her son needs. She and Balow said they hope the donated gifts from “Adopt a Family” will be available for drop off in early December to surprise the entire Winters family.
With this in mind, student Erin Hobson, a FASK member, said the experience motivated and inspired her in the career path she intends to pursue.
“I joined FASK because of the powerful impact it allows me make. We not only support the pediatric cancer patient, but the family as well, and that is was makes this organization really special,” Hobson said. “As a pre-med, it is fairly easy to observe the medical side of cancer treatment, but FASK exposes you to the big picture.”
Last year, more than $600 in gifts and gift cards were donated. This year, the goal has been raised to $1,000 and FASK hopes to expand its membership beyond its current standing of 45 members.