Commemorating Fifteen Years Serving Nearly 500 Local Families of Children with Cancer
Freedom, CA – It all started 15 years ago with a flashing red light on Lori Butterworth’s answering machine. “Lori, it’s urgent. Jacob has been diagnosed with cancer.” Jacob, the five-year old son of Butterworth’s friend, had been immediately admitted to the children’s hospital. Butterworth rushed to the hospital to be with Jacob and his family. With mom-to-mom eye contact, she said to Jacob’s mother, “I’m here to help; what are your immediate concerns?” On that day, in that hospital room, Jacob’s Heart Children’s Cancer Association was born.
Now, 15 years later, Jacob’s Heart has provided support to nearly 500 families, just like Jacob’s, who have heard the devastating words: “Your child has cancer.”
Jacob is now 19 years old and remains grateful that Jacob’s Heart continues to serve families just like his after so many years. “I remember being in the hospital when I was only 5 years old worrying mostly about my mom, he said, “Lori showed to help my mom cope and that helped me – the way Jacob’s Heart supports the parents helps a child with cancer more than anything.”
This month, Jacob’s Heart’s Founder, Lori Butterworth, returns as executive director to lead the organization to its next phase of development and to spearhead the celebration of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month in September.
“One of our very first successful advocacy efforts at Jacob’s Heart was back in 1999 when we worked with then Senator Bruce McPherson to have September officially declared Childhood Cancer Awareness Month in the State of California,” said Butterworth, reflecting on how that initiative catapulted the movement to raise awareness of the needs of families of children with cancer. “McPherson has been a champion for our children and for our families as Senator, Secretary of State, County Supervisor, community member and parent.”
“I am proud of the outstanding service Jacob’s Heart continues to provide to our local children and families, added McPherson, “ I look forward to celebrating this September and seeing how much more can be accomplished in the coming years as Lori Butterworth returns to lead the organization.”
Since founding Jacob’s Heart, Butterworth has been deeply involved in children and youth initiatives, She co-founded a California state-wide children’s hospice advocacy group, spearheading several healthcare policy initiatives including the enactment of California’s Nick Snow Children’s Hospice and Palliative Care Act of 2006. At a national level, she was instrumental in securing Section 2302 of the Affordable Care Act, which provides concurrent supportive and curative care for children with life threatening conditions. Most recently she founded the Watsonville and Santa Cruz Youth City Council programs.
“The support of Jacob’s Heart is essential to our community members whose children are battling cancer, added Santa Cruz Mayor Hilary Bryant, “I have known and worked with Lori for many years and know her as a steadfast advocate for children, but more important than the advocacy efforts has been an unwavering commitment to serving each individual child and family.”
One of those families is that of Jessica Fitz, who is now in remission and in her early 20s. Several years after intensive cancer treatment, Fitz remembers the devastation of missing her prom because she was getting intense chemotherapy and radiation. Fitz now volunteers almost every day at Jacob’s Heart and is being mentored by Butterworth. “I am so happy that Lori is back at Jacob’s Heart. She cares so much about every one of our families always putting our needs first,” said Fitz, “After supporting me when I was very sick, now Lori is helping me learn about nonprofits so that I can give back what I received as a Jacob’s Heart child.”
For Butterworth’s service to children and youth, she has received multiple regional and national awards including Oprah Winfrey’s “Use Your Life” Angel Network Award, the California Association of Nonprofits’ Award for Innovation in Program Development, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Award for Excellence in End of Life Care and, in 2007 she was named Santa Cruz Chamber of Commerce Woman of the Year.
“With Susan Osorio announcing her semi-retirement in June, when the opportunity to have Lori return to the organization presented itself, we were thrilled. With Lori’s rich history with Jacob’s Heart, and the skills she has honed since its founding, we’re excited to have her leadership to pave the way for the next 15 years,” said Gloria Vasquez, Co-President Board of Directors.
As the need for the services at Jacob’s Heart continues to grow, Butterworth will lead the charge to create a sustainable fund stream, analyze current services to families, implement new programs as identified, and strengthen community partnerships. She will lead a community awareness campaign about childhood cancer, the impact being made by Jacob’s Heart, and the ways the community can become involved.
With Childhood Cancer Awareness month in September, the campaign will kick off at Jacob’s Heart’s 15th annual Kidrageous Carnival on September 29th in the Watsonville Plaza from noon to 5:00 PM. All are invited to attend.