By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
Susan Bertrand wants to bring more comfort and hope to people facing cancer or life-altering diseases and their families. She founded Maureen’s Hope Foundation in Baldwinsville as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit to offer practical support and aid shortly after her family’s own cancer journey.
Bertrand named the organization to honor sister, Maureen Humphrey, who died from an aggressive form of cancer at age 31, after two years fighting cancer.
“I learned first hand what a family goes through,” Bertrand said. “It’s been a very healing experience for myself and my family. I consider the work we do to be a privilege.”
Founded 14 years ago, Bertrand works fulltime at the organization, which doesn’t focus on a specific type of life-altering illness or age group, though some of its outreaches do.
The organization offers practical support such as a cleaning service to help take care of the home so the family has more time to support their loved one who’s ill.
Maureen’s Hope treats moms of children with life-altering diseases to an annual free spa day to allow them to connect and unwind. There’s also Easter baskets for pediatric patients and comfort gift baskets for people of all ages.
The organization has put together 2,400 of those baskets, each containing a minimum of $100 value of items donated to or purchased by Maureen’s Hope.
“Every basket is made specifically for that person depending on their type of cancer, age and interests,” Bertrand said.
A Syracuse University sports fan may find lots of Orange goodies in his basket. An angler might receive fishing magazines. None of these efforts offer a cure or represent another earth-shaking discovery, but that’s not the point.
“The little things in life can make a difference,” Bertrand said. “You don’t have to have a million dollars or do things on a grand scale to make a difference.”
Many businesses donate to the organization; however, individuals of modest means can get involved, too, through the Carry a Bead program.
“We’ve had sports teams or schools involved and members of the Dave Matthews Band, but anyone can do it, whether you’re five or 95,” Bertrand said.
Athletes with the Syracuse Crunch, Syracuse University and LeMoyne College have participated by pinning beads on during a practice (regulations forbid them during games). Afterwards, they write a note to the children and keep one bead to carry with them as a reminder.
“You think of how hard a college athlete works,” Bertrand said. “They send some positivity.”
The note card goes in a bag with a bead and comes back to the organization to distribute to any one of 60,000 children in the program.
To provide a visual symbol of their cancer journey, thousands have become part of Beads of Courage, an organization that collaborates with volunteers in 250 hospitals worldwide.
“When children are diagnosed, they usually go through a horrible treatment, they get a bead after each treatment,” Bertrand said. “It’s all nice, handmade glass. Each one is different for chemotherapy or radiation or whatever treatment they receive. You can see if a child has 10 beads or 400 beads. They’d know if the others have just arrived or they’ve been here a while.”
For some patients, receiving a new one helps distract them and the string of beads becomes a badge of honor. Some beads represent a milestone achieved.
The You and Me Bears are another example of how Maureen’s Hope helps connect people. For children experiencing extended hospital stays, the identical teddy bears — one for themselves and one for a loved one help them feel closer together. A card accompanying the toys reads:
“A cuddly bear to keep us close
At night time when I miss you most
One for me and one for you
Filled with hugs and kisses,
The You and Me Bears project is named after a song by the Dave Matthews Band and is supported through their foundation Bama Works. The organization receives support from personal and corporate donations, grants and fundraising events.
“People need to know they’re not in the fight alone,” Bertrand said. “Support doesn’t have to come in a monetary way. Kindness from a stranger makes a difference.”
For information on upcoming events, visit the Maureen’s Hope Foundation Faceook page or www.maureenshope.org.