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Generous Spirits: These community members show that there are endless ways for each of us to make a difference in our own way

by on December 02, 2019 10:53 AM

Christy Delafield has made a career out of giving on a global scale, helping some of the world’s most vulnerable people during times of crisis.

Diane Kramer gives back at a local level through activism and advocacy, despite her own battle with multiple sclerosis.

Barry Peters gave an extremely personal gift on an individual level to keep a family member alive and healthy.

Shirley Stump is making a difference by devoting her retirement years to helping her community through the State College Woman’s Club.

Joe and Lucy Loomis felt welcomed by their church and have been sharing that gift with others ever since.

From his daughter’s health crisis, Devon Still built a foundation to help other families going through similar challenges.

While their motivations, their gifts, and their stories are very different, there are some striking similarities. All exude positivity and a sense of optimism about the future, and each express some version of the same sentiment: “How could I not do this?” Their experiences are inspiring, showing that there are endless avenues for each of us to make a difference in our own way.

 

Christy Delafield: ‘Work worth doing’

While evacuees from the Bahamas were fleeing the destruction of Hurricane Dorian en masse this fall, Christy Delafield was making her way to the Abacos Islands.

As she has done so many times throughout her career as a humanitarian aid worker, the 39-year-old State College native was heading to a location that others were trying to escape. Her stay in the Bahamas would involve sleeping on a barge, distributing food and water, resolving supply-chain issues like finding sanitary warehouse space, and working with water engineers to develop reverse osmosis machines that are currently being used to generate 7,500 gallons of clean water from seawater each day.

The assignment was as close as it gets to “typical” for Delafield in her role as director of communications for Mercy Corps, a global organization that works to meet the urgent survival needs of residents during times of crisis, while also giving communities the tools they need to eventually rebuild. In addition to being a part of any and every aspect of the “boots on the ground” efforts during a crisis, a large part of Delafield’s job is to interview members of the local communities.

“Part of my role is to collect information and share it back,” she says. “Part of being a humanitarian is bearing witness, helping people who aren’t familiar with the crisis to understand what’s happening.”

Of course, every crisis is unique, and Delafield says humanitarian needs have been changing over the past couple of decades.

“Twenty years ago, it used to be that the bulk of humanitarian assistance went to people that were in need as a result of natural disasters,” she says. “Today, if you look at the breakdown of people who are in humanitarian need, something like 80 percent are in need as a result of violent conflict in their communities. That’s a huge challenge, even as we’re seeing an increase in natural disasters around the world.”

According to Delafield, Mercy Corps has almost 6,000 team members across the world, and has provided aid to more than 28 million people in more than 40 countries in 2019.

“Eighty-five percent of the people we hire are from the countries where they work. I’m certainly not the norm at Mercy Corps, being from State College,” she says.

Now based in Washington, D.C., Delafield has found herself deployed to some of the most dangerous corners of the world, including the war-torn areas of Syria, Yemen, and Iraq; yet for the most part, she feels safe wherever she goes.

“I really believe in and trust our security team, and they’re very careful. We do a lot of training, we do a lot of drills, we’re given security briefings, and our movements are very restricted,” she says. “But the people that we are helping, they have no escape route. They don’t have a choice. [For example], you never see refugees from Yemen, because there is no way for people to get out of that country. They flee from village to village based on where the front lines are moving. … If they’re going to be brave like that, and I have this great security team backing me up, making me feel comfortable – I just don’t see how you cannot do that work, and not support people that are living it every day.”

After graduation from State College Area High School, Delafield attended Penn State, where she majored in French and integrative art with a minor in international relations. Unsure of her career path, she was scheduled to fly to France for a year-long study abroad opportunity on September 11, 2001.

“Spending that year in France after September 11 really changed a lot for me,” she says. “I witnessed a lot of Islamophobia in Europe and then again when I came home.”

After graduating, she returned to France on a Fulbright assistantship, teaching Moroccan students who continued to experience discrimination and Islamophobia.

“That really drew me into feeling some compassion for people feeling disenfranchised and for people suffering. Ultimately that led me to Syria, but I was always kind of building with this desire to listen and understand someone else’s pain and someone else’s life story,” Delafield says.

She was working with Syrian-American groups who were providing medical aid to Syria when she was introduced to the work of Mercy Corps. She has been working with the organization for five years.

“In a lot of ways, I feel like I’ve found my calling, my vocation, in this work,” she says, yet she remains humble about her role. “I’ve met some amazing heroes, people who’ve inspired me. I take from their example and I want to live up to the courage that they show. … It’s a gift to work with them, and it’s a gift to know them. I’m the recipient of something beautiful here.”

Despite experiencing firsthand some dire situations, Delafield remains optimistic about the state of the world and its future.

“The work we do is really human-centered and it’s about empowering people to move forward themselves. We’re putting forward a vision of a positive future, and that hope is really important,” she says. “It’s easy to get frustrated by the number of crises you see in the world, but you can make a difference and you can make change. … It’s work worth doing.”

For more information about Mercy Corps, visit mercycorps.org.

 

Diane Kramer: ‘Preparing for a life without MS’

After living with multiple sclerosis for nine years, it would be understandable if Diane Kramer chose to focus entirely on taking care of herself. After all, as she puts it, “Staying well is a full-time job.”

Much of her time is spent doing physical therapy or vision therapy and traveling to and from The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore for treatment. She has bad days when she wakes up unable to see, or to walk without her walking sticks, or even to get out of bed. She also has a husband and a daughter whom she loves to cook for and spend time with.

All of this would probably be enough for most people to juggle from day to day. But Kramer also has a passion for helping other MS patients, a passion that consumes the rest of her time and energy. The self-described “firebrand” has poured her heart and soul into her purely voluntary role as an MS advocate and activist, striving to connect the local MS community, educate people about available resources, fight for MS-friendly legislation, and work toward a cure.

Kramer, 36, was first diagnosed with MS in 2010, after experiencing a loss of feeling in her left hand and leg and across her trunk. At that time, she was not given much hope – in fact, doctors told her she’d need a wheelchair in a year. She didn’t know anybody else with MS and she felt extremely isolated.

It did not take long, however, for Kramer to spin negatives into positives.

“That doctor who told me I was going to be in a wheelchair in a year inspired one of my greatest things, and that was to run 500 miles that year. I was not a runner or anything, but that was an ego thing,” she says.

She also discovered the National MS Society, which turned out to be the ultimate game-changer for her. Not only did she find its website to be a tremendous source of information, it also led her to the MS Navigators, a network of highly-trained experts across the United States who are on-call 24/7 to help MS patients and family members.

MS Navigators helped Kramer get referred to Johns Hopkins, the closest comprehensive care center, giving her access to a case manager that helps her navigate a multi-disciplined approach to care. At Johns Hopkins, she found a vibrant community that included professionals actively working on groundbreaking research and innovative treatments, and fellow MS patients who were young and full of hope – the community she felt was lacking back home in State College.

The National MS Society had already identified this void in State College, and asked for Kramer’s help in establishing a support network here. Seeing the opportunity to help others avoid the isolation she initially experienced, she jumped at the chance. Since then, she’s been hard at work stitching together a local community of MS allies. She has established a local MS Community Council, which will kick off in January with the goal of bringing together local MS patients and families for support groups, happy hours, and educational events on a regular basis.

Kramer has a medical background, having worked as a nurse until MS-related cognitive symptoms led her to retire early. One of her goals is to arm local doctors with stacks of information about MS resources to hand over to patients as soon as they are diagnosed. In the meantime, Kramer is operating as an unofficial one-woman support group, providing information and a listening ear for newly-diagnosed patients who are often referred to her by word-of-mouth.

“I spend a lot of time listening. … We’ve all had those nights where you have the thought that tonight might be the night that the sun does not come up,” she says. “If I can be there for someone in those moments, I’m willing to do that, because I’ve been there.”

Kramer continues to defy that doctor’s nearly decade-old prediction of soon needing to use a wheelchair. Along with her team, The Myelinators, she is a proud regular participant in Walk MS and Bike MS, the two biggest fundraisers for the National MS Society. The team name refers to “myelin,” the protective nerve covering that an MS patient loses when their immune system attacks the central nervous system.

Kramer not only works tirelessly to raise funds, but she has biked several times in the Keystone Country Ride, a two-day, 150-mile Bike MS event going from Hollidaysburg to State College and back. While this year she was unable to ride because of July’s record-breaking heat – “Heat is very difficult for people with MS,” she says – she did speak at the event.

In fact, public speaking has become an unexpected but important piece of her advocacy. She recently was appointed as a district activist leader for the National MS Society, a role that sends her to Harrisburg to make the case for state legislation to help MS patients. She will also be traveling to Washington, D.C., in February to speak to Congress about federal policy points.

Kramer peppers her conversation with statistics and facts about MS: One in 330 Americans has MS … Pennsylvania has the fifth-highest prevalence of MS in the country … the first FDA-approved drug for MS was not introduced until 1994.

She volunteers as a subject for every research project she can at Penn State’s Multiple Sclerosis Research Center, and she stays fully informed about current research findings, of which she says there are many that offer hope that a cure is close at hand.

“The research is light years ahead of what it was in 2010. This is an exciting time to be a part of the movement, because there’s something big coming. You can feel it,” she says. “I am passionate about this because I am preparing for a life without MS."

Diane Kramer can be reached through her public Facebook page, @mrsdianekramer. For information about the National MS Society, visit nationalmssociety.org.

 

Barry Peters: Kidney donation a ‘no-brainer’

“What’s the big deal?”

That’s what Barry Peters thought about his decision to donate a kidney to his older brother, Mike, in April.

Mike Peters, 51, had been suffering with polycystic kidney disease since 2001 – a fact that he kept quiet from his mother, father, and brother until October 2018, when doctors told him it was time for him to get on a transplant list in order to avoid kidney failure and dialysis.

When he surprised his family with the news, Barry’s reaction was swift.

“He was talking about getting on the transplant donor list. And I said, ‘Wait a minute, aren’t siblings supposed to be better matches?’” he says. “‘I’ve got two [kidneys]; if I’m a match, what’s the big deal?’”

The brothers learned that siblings are actually not much more inclined to be a match than anyone else, but they began the testing process, thinking that if they were incompatible, they could get on the paired kidney exchange list – meaning Barry could swap his kidney with another, more compatible donor’s kidney. The process was extensive, including blood tests, kidney function tests, stress tests, and even psychoanalytical tests.

“Then I got a phone message in December saying we were a direct exchange and I could donate directly to my brother. I’ve never deleted that message from my phone. … We were very fortunate,” Barry says.

“It saved so much time,” Mike adds. “Doctors told me that people can be waiting on a transplant list for years.”

The surgeries were scheduled for April 12 at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh. The risks they faced included all of the normal ones associated with surgeries, with Mike having to be particularly watchful of infection and organ rejection, but everything went smoothly. After removing Barry’s kidney, surgeons placed it into Mike’s abdomen in front of his existing kidneys, which remain in his body.

The brothers recuperated for three days in adjoining hospital rooms before being discharged, completing recovery together in their parents’ Huntingdon home.

Recovery looked different for both of them. Barry’s surgery was a bit more invasive, requiring five incisions to heal as opposed to just one for Mike. Barry also immediately felt the draining effects of dropping from two fully functioning kidneys down to one, while Mike suddenly found himself with a shot of energy as he gained a fully functioning kidney for the first time in many years. Barry’s remaining kidney picked up the slack and he recovered quickly.

Barry was able to get back to his work as a mortgage loan officer with Fairway Independent Mortgage Corporation in State College almost immediately, answering emails on his phone in his hospital bed, whereas Mike had to take a two-month leave of absence from his job at the ACCO Brands plant in Alexandria.

“A week after surgery, I was home walking about two miles a day,” Barry says. “I felt great. I was thinking, ‘Everyone should do this! This is a breeze!’ I was getting my energy back, I was drinking a lot of water, I was getting my appetite back, I was not taking much pain medication.”

Unfortunately, Barry soon developed an unusual complication. He began having shooting pains down his right leg, eventually being diagnosed with nerve impingement that doctors believe was caused by pressure on his spine due to the way his body was positioned during surgery. He is still undergoing physical therapy and chiropractic treatments and says he is slowly but surely getting better.

“I’m ruining all the feel-good statistics about kidney donors, but I am a really abnormal case,” he says. “I would not expect other people to have nerve issues as a result of this surgery.”

Once this obstacle is behind him, Barry, 49, should have no lingering complications, as his kidney should continue to grow and take on more functionality to make up for the missing one. Although Mike will be on anti-rejection medication for the rest of his life, his new kidney should remain fully functioning into old age, as any other healthy adult’s would.

Regardless of his complications, Barry says he would do it all over again in a heartbeat.

“My brother is one of my best friends. We do a lot together. He plays in a band and I like to go listen to him jam. We used to kayak together. … I’d like us to be able to keep kayaking together, and do all this stuff together again, so for me, giving him a kidney was a no-brainer. I’m really just hoping to keep him around. In a way it’s a kind of selfishness,” Barry says. “It’s the people that just do it randomly for strangers that completely blow my mind. There are people out there who are way better than most of us.”

“I would not associate ‘selfishness’ with anything he did,” Mike says. “He stepped up from the very beginning. He did the ultimate. I don’t know how to say thank you properly.”

While the brothers are private people, Barry hopes that sharing their story might encourage others to consider organ donation.

“I would encourage everyone to look into it. It’s amazing. A week out of surgery I was thinking, ‘Why doesn’t everybody do this?’ If you’re a match for somebody and you’re in good health and your kidneys are functioning – why not?” 

 

Shirley Stump: ‘Going and going and going’ 

In the 25 years since she retired, Shirley Stump has been making a difference in the community through the Woman’s Club of State College. At 91, she doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. As the president of the club, she manages the organization and works to keep it viable in these changing times.

“It fills my life. Once I retired, I didn’t have anything to do,” says Stump. “It was a challenge, but it has been my life. I am 91, and the reason I am 91 is because I kept going and going and going. If I had sat down, I wouldn’t be here.”

The Woman’s Club was founded 125 years ago in a very different time, but its message and mission still matter. In 1894, State College was not yet a borough and there was no electricity and no water or sewer system. But Penn State was growing and Frances Atherton, the wife of Penn State’s seventh president, Dr. George Atherton, moved to town with her family and started the Woman’s Literary Club of State College. This later became the State College Woman’s Club. Among its many contributions to the community through the years is a thrift shop that operates on Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. 

“The ladies had trouble getting clothes during the war, so the ladies gave up their clothes that didn’t fit anymore into a little shop so people could have new clothes. That is how the thrift shop began,” Stump says.

Now the not-for-profit thrift shop offers a chance for people in the area to recycle their old but still good clothes, home goods, and more, providing quality second-hand goods at low prices. 

The money raised at the shop then goes back into the community to nonprofits such as the Park Forest Day Nursery, Meals On Wheels, Millbrook Marsh, State College Food Bank, and the Centre County Women’s Resource Center. After maintaining its building and paying taxes, the club donated almost $30,000 last year to various nonprofits.

It is a cycle of giving that benefits many in State College, and Stump and her team keep it all going strong. But it isn’t easy.

The club, at 902 South Allen Street, looks immaculate. All the clothes and goods are organized and orderly. The shop stays busy with customers who come to see what is new, because you never know what you might find: a pair a hip-waders, an oil painting, or maybe a vintage Elvis Presley lunch box. There is interesting stuff galore. 

Visitors might find Stump putting things in order. She is full of energy, enthusiasm and stories.

She worked for years at Riverside Market in Altoona and State College, bringing her retail experience with her when she joined the club. She started working as a cashier at the thrift shop and was soon asked to manage the store. 

Even as president of the club, she remains involved with the thrift store, partly because there are fewer people around to help out now.

Club membership is a far cry from its heyday, and Stump thinks it’s because women are involved in so many things these days. She understands. 

“Even women’s recreation has changed. I was born in ’28; we had nothing but a radio. I remember when television came in and when phones became classic instead of cellular,” says Stump.

But she still feels the club is a great place for women to stay active, build relationships, and make a difference in the community. 

Stump comes in every day and checks the shop’s donation box. With a team, she helps organize the donations, keeps the store looking tip-top, and relishes all the connections she’s made. She encourages anyone interested in joining to stop by, “because you just have to be here and talk to [the club members]. They are all just such wonderful people. They all have a goal in mind to make a difference and it is something that I really approve of. And I know it has been good for me health-wise or else I wouldn’t be here.

“I have these friends here and they know me from way back. I really enjoy what I do, and it is no big deal,” says Stump.

But for the community members who come into the thrift shop and the nonprofits that receive the donations, it is a big deal.

 

Joe and Lucy Loomis: Warm and welcoming

On a Wednesday in November, Joe Loomis had to take a break to answer a phone call. He was busy putting a heating pump in at University Baptist and Brethren Church in State College, but he was good enough to stop and answer his phone. He was kind as could be, even though he was in the middle of a big project. It seems like kindness is his general disposition.

Loomis gives his time on Wednesdays performing maintenance projects along with some other guys (including local running legend George Etzweiler) at the church that he and his wife, Lucy, have been a part of since 1968. 

“We did that every Wednesday morning for years. George retired, but he is still a resource,” Joe says.

Etzweiler still helps out with the electrical stuff from time to time, and Joe, a retired engineer, keeps things running smoothly at the old stone church at 411 South Burrowes Street, making sure that the buildings have heat and running water.

Joe and Lucy felt at home in the church community right away because of its inclusivity. Back then, in the late 1960s, people typically got dressed up in their Sunday best for church, but she remembers seeing a family that dressed a little more comfortably. She says the kids acted like they were at home in the church, and that meant something to her: that everyone was welcome and felt comfortable.

Lucy also remembers the flowers decorating the church that day. They were simple flowers picked from a garden, not a fancy bouquet from a florist.

“I loved that; it was just simple,” she says. “It didn’t have to be fancy stuff up there, and the people were warm. We were new and it was welcoming in every way.”

That approach continues. The church became the first in the area to officially welcome the LGBTQ community back in 1999, at time when that stance was controversial.

“I don’t know that we were part of it, but we were trying to be more welcoming,” says Joe. “Some of those who were gay in the church came out to the church, and they were traumatized by that process in the past, at other churches. We decided that we would take a stand, so we took a vote to say that we would become welcoming and affirming of all genders. The first vote, that I happened to be moderator at, was a 50-50 vote.”

Through committee discussions within the church over the next couple of years, church members voted again on becoming welcoming and affirming, this time voting 98-2 in favor, Joe says.

“It was incredible, it really was. I don’t think we lost any families,” he says. “I think the process and discussion took away a lot of the fear.”

“I think once you get to know somebody that you love, that makes a difference in a group,” says Lucy.

Ever involved in the church community, once a year Joe gets dressed up in a farmer's hat and overalls; you can call him Farmer Joe. It is not for Halloween; it is for the Alternative Christmas Fair at the church, where he volunteers at a nonprofit booth for another organization near and dear to his heart: Heifer International, which works to end hunger around the world by providing livestock and agricultural training to people in need.

The Alternative Christmas Fair takes place this year on December 8, providing holiday gift-givers an option to give something other than material goods for the holidays. Volunteers from 28 local and international charities are on hand at the event, and people can receive cards for loved ones noting that a contribution was made to a worthy organization. 

‘It is a wonderful event,” says Joe. “Some people buy whole cows that go to needy people; one person, she loves chickens and so she buys a flock of chicks. She doesn’t get a tangible flock of chicks, but in her name a flock of chicks goes to people who need it.”

Joe started as a volunteer at Heifer International in the late 1950s for a few months doing mailings, and he continues to believe in the work of the organization because he has seen the benefits firsthand. 

“In Honduras I saw a beautiful example of a heifer that was donated that was helping to eliminate malnourishment in a village,” he says.

Through work with another organization, he saw the animals that were donated through Heifer making a difference in Ghana.

“There is one town that you went to and they said that [they] would be hungry if it weren’t for these animals,” says Lucy.

“They find a malnourished child and they give them goat’s milk and they eliminate malnourishment, and they even raised enough money to build a road to their town,” Joe says. “It was incredible.”

And so are Joe and Lucy.

 

Devon and Leah Still: Shared strength  

There was nothing that could prepare Devon Still for how much it hurt the day doctors told him that his little girl had cancer.

Not the struggles he had growing up in Wilmington, Delaware, where he sometimes veered down the wrong path. 

Not the pain he felt when he tore the ACL and MCL in his knee during his freshman year as a defensive lineman on the Penn State football team, nor the broken leg as a sophomore.

Not the difficult hours of rehab that he put in training rooms to get back on the field and the work he did to become a team leader.

Not being a team captain at Penn State during its darkest hours, answering difficult questions from the media during his senior year.

Nor the mounting injuries that kept sidelining him as a pro, limiting his promising career.

None of those things hurt as much as the thought that he might lose his 4-year old daughter, Leah, to a rare form of cancer. Not even close. 

But, he says all those experiences did help give him the strength he needed to fight. The strength he needed to never give up hope. The strength to be there for his daughter when she needed him.

And now, with Leah approaching the huge milestone of five years in remission – where doctors say she can be considered cured – Devon and Leah are “Still Strong” and continue to fight with the hope that someday no child will have to go through what Leah and her loved ones went through. 

Their Still Strong Foundation is making a difference in the fight against pediatric cancer by providing families with resources they need to still be strong. Still is sharing with those families some of the strength he gained at Penn State.

“When I dealt with those things at Penn State, I learned a lot about myself. I learned about discipline; I was able to cultivate a very resilient mindset. If I didn’t go through those two years of struggling, I don’t think I would have had the mindset I did when Leah was battling cancer,” he says. 

In October, the first Still Strong Foundation Golf Outing was held at Toftrees Golf Resort in State College. The event allowed Still to connect with the Penn State community that he calls a family and raise money for his and Leah’s continued fight to help others. He hopes for it to grow even bigger next year in round two.

“Penn State is the first place that I learned about childhood cancer, just being a part of THON and just seeing everything that the university does to help families that are battling cancer,” Still says. “And when Leah was battling cancer, the Penn State community really rallied behind us and showed us a lot of support, so I wanted to make sure that I did an event there so people could hear and see what we are doing with the foundation.”

Their story is well known. Here was Still, living his NFL dream but dealing with another injury. He dropped everything to be with his daughter as she fought her battle with cancer, putting his career on hold. The sports world rallied behind him and soon it was a story that touched people across the country. Through the power of social media, Leah’s and Devon’s strength gave people hope, and it still does.

There is a picture of the two of them from that time, Leah without her hair because of the cancer treatments she was enduring, Devon with his head shaved in solidarity. In the picture, Leah is kissing her dad’s head.

“When I look at the picture, that whole time I thought that I was looking over my daughter, but I felt during that moment in the picture that my angel was looking over me, because there were a lot of things that I was battling mentally as far as fighting not to lose my daughter and fighting not to lose my career,” Still says. “So, in that picture it was like she was giving me a lot of the strength that she possessed; letting me know that it was going to be OK.”

After a battle that began in June 2014 when she was diagnosed with Stage 4 neuroblastoma, on March 25, 2015, a doctor told Still that Leah was in remission following many difficult treatments.

“Daddy, did I beat up cancer?” Leah asked that day.

He could finally say, “Yes.”

“Since the day she was diagnosed with cancer, I always dreamed about and thought about the day when I could tell her that she ‘beat up cancer,’” says Still. “There were a lot of times during that whole ordeal that I thought that I would never be able to tell her that. For me, it shows the power of not giving up, because if we would have given up when the cancer spread all over her body, than we would have never gotten to the point ... where she was cancer-free. So, to be able to tell her that all her hard work paid off was amazing.”

Leah continues to fight to make sure she is healthy and remains in remission. And just like she had the strength to lift up her dad when he was worried, the strong young lady now works to help uplift kids as they go through a battle that she knows all too well. She and her dad visit other children with cancer through the foundation she helped create. 

Devon himself knows the sacrifices that families have to make as they help their children fight. The foundation helps families cover needed expenses as they put their children through treatment.

The foundation recently helped a family that relocated to Houston because they could not get the treatment they needed in Hawaii.

“The dad had to give up his job, the mom had to give up her job, and they had a total of six kids,” Still says.

Because they had no income, their car was repossessed, and they had to take public transportation to the hospital for treatment.

“That is dangerous when you have a child battling cancer, because once you go through treatment you don’t have an immune system; you have to try to stay away from germs as much as possible or you are putting your life in jeopardy,” Still says. “So, we decided to go ahead and pay their car off so they wouldn’t have to stress…

“Just to see [the mother’s] reaction, and knowing that we were able to take care of that part of her life so she could focus on her son, that was more of a blessing to us than to her, I think,” Still says.

Currently, the foundation is working with families from Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, St. Christopher's Hospital for Children in Philadelphia, Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, and Texas Children's Hospital in Houston. Still hopes to expand their efforts to include Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center soon.

The foundation will hold the fourth annual For Our Children Gala in Philadelphia on March 28; it will correlate with Leah’s five-year in remission date. Sponsorship opportunities and tickets are still available.

“We are trying to blow our number out of the water this year, because we are really celebrating her fight and her making it to the five-year mark, but I want to do it in such a way that we are supporting families battling cancer and they can get to this mark too. … We are going to be a big resource to help them get there,” Still says. 

All those lessons he learned at Penn State made an impact on Still. He only wishes he had started the fight sooner.

“You don’t want to wait until it is too late. Because it took for me to have my child be diagnosed with cancer to really know what families go through, and I just feel like I should have done more while I was at Penn State,” he says. “Of course I did THON and I took families around the football field to show them a day in the life of a football Penn State player, but I never sat down to hear what a day in the life is like for a family battling cancer until I was thrown into those shoes. And maybe if I had done more when I initially found out about childhood cancer, we could have been further along in resources and in research; it would have been an easier path for my child.”

Still sure is doing it now, working to make it easier for those whose experience he now knows well. Learn more about the foundation’s efforts at stillstrongfoundation.org. 

 

Karen Walker is a freelance writer in State College. Vincent Corso is a staff writer for Town&Gown and The Centre County Gazette.

 

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