Real Women's Stories: 'I Saw Children in Need and Had to Help'

These four women didn't turn away when they discovered kids who were sick, hungry, craving an education or so poor they didn't have clothes. Instead, they each found a way to give back. 

bear necessities charity to fight pediatric cancer

Kathleen Casey, 56, Chicago, Illinois
The Charity: Bear Necessities Pediatric Cancer Foundation
Founded: 1992
Mission: eliminating pediatric cancer and supporting those touched by it.

HER INSPIRATION
“I want to do something to help kids who aren’t as lucky as me,” 8-year-old Barrett “Bear” Krupa told his mom, Kathleen Casey, in the fall of 1992. Lucky? That day, Kathleen was with her son in the hospital, where Bear was being treated for Wilms’ tumor, a form of pediatric kidney cancer. He was diagnosed when he was 3. “He was always more concerned about the other kids than about himself,” Kathleen says. 

Seeing so many kids fighting cancer spurred mom and son to start a charity for pediatric patients. Bear died the following January, and Kathleen has since made it her life’s work to carry on his dream through the nonprofit Bear Necessities. The charity’s Bear Hugs program fulfills sick kids’ dreams, whether it’s a day of pampering at a beauty salon or a meet-and-greet with a famous athlete or musician. “I remember a little girl named Caitrin, who was 6. She wanted a puppy so she could share it with her brother. We got her one, and she and her brother were able to name it and cuddle with it before she died the next morning.”

Her charity (bearnecessities.org) is also there to eat families’ day-to-day burdens: covering a month’s rent, paying utility bills, buying groceries and getting a home cleaned—“whatever a family needs,” Kathleen says. Bear Necessities also things big. Its Bear Discoveries unit helps fund pediatric cancer research in the United States and Canada. The organization has funded more than $3 million in research since 1994.

MAKING IT A REALITY
To get Bear Necessities off the ground, Kathleen focused that first year on holding small fund-raisers, writing a mission statement and forming a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. The next year, she launched what has become the charity’s primary fund-raiser, the Bear Tie Ball, held that year at the Field Museum in Chicago. Kathleen took out a second mortgage on her home to finance the first ball, and she was able to clear about $45,000 from the event.

TAKING IT TO THE NEXT LEVEL
Bear Necessities, which has raised more than $16 million, now helps several hundred Chicago-area kids each year, with an annual budget of close to $2 million. It has chapters in South Carolina and Texas, with plans to establish 10 more in the next year.

Through it all, Kathleen’s dedication to the children has not wavered. “One boy we helped, Luke, was diagnosed at age 5 with neuroblastoma and then was diagnosed with leukemia,” she says. “He’s now 18 and going to college in the fall. When you see what kids with cancer must go through, you know you have to keep at it.” 

 

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