I first heard about the Me Fine Foundation back in mid-2011. I was serving on my then-employer’s internal foundation board, a pass-through fundraising group that supported various charities as requested by our colleagues. I’d reached out to a friend/fraternity brother, asking him to support a golf-a-thon that I was playing in to benefit a Florida foundation that provides financial support for families with children fighting brain cancer. Josh Swindell, a longtime Me Fine board member and then Board Chair, said to me “If you like that Foundation, I need to tell you about Me Fine.” By the end of lunch, I was signed up to join the Me Fine Board of Directors the following January.
There are many deserving organizations here in the Triangle, but few I’ve found whose mission and purpose is so clear. Children get sick through no fault of their own. Insurance helps cover the costs of treatment, and there are many foundations providing research grants towards finding better ways to diagnose, treat, and even cure some terrible diseases. But what about the cost of receiving care? Driving to and from the hospital; taking time off work to be with your child; eating meals out and staying at hotels just so you can keep family together. Or the emotional toll a serious illness can take on the child, their siblings, parents, and extended families: Who helps with that?
Me Fine does.
I’m blessed to have two beautiful, healthy children. We’ve never spent a night in the hospital, and I hope we never have to. The truth is: I have a hard time even conceiving what it would be like if one of them received a serious diagnosis – the anxiety and fear and desperation. Add to that financial stress, and it’s truly unimaginable.
Unfortunately, families face that every day at Duke, UNC, and WakeMed Children’s Hospitals. One of those was the Lee family. You may be familiar with Folden’s story, and that of his amazing mother, Lori Lee. Me Fine’s name recalls young Folden’s answer when asked how he was doing today, before he ultimately lost his battle with leukemia. Our mission represents Lori’s selfless vision – solving problems faced by the families she met during Folden’s treatment.
Lori is the most altruistic, inspiring person I’ve ever known. She’s lost a son to leukemia. She’s fought and beaten cancer multiple times herself. She’s been a patient advocate, a grief counselor, a fundraiser, and public speaker. All of this in hopes of making life a little easier for families she may never meet. During my six years serving on our board, my primary purpose has been to ensure that Lori’s hard work and determination to help these families can continue long after her and my time on the board has passed.
To that end, I’m quite proud of what’s been accomplished during my tenure. Our staff has expanded and is well-equipped to meet Me Fine’s evolving needs. Our board is stronger, and we’ve created more opportunities to leverage non-board member contributions through our committee structure. Our resources have grown; our annual budget today is more than double what it was in 2012 (thanks to generous supporters like those reading this letter). And as a Foundation, we’ve matured – what once was a hands in the dirt, “little engine that could,” has evolved into a highly-regarded, well known nonprofit here in our community.
At the same time, the need for what we do has also grown. We served more families in 2017 than any year before, and are on track to serve many more in 2018. We expanded into WakeMed Children’s Hospital,and are supporting more emotional support programs than at any time in our history.
I hope there will come a day when Me Fine is no longer needed, when childhood disease is a thing of the past, and families never face the same tragedy that Lori and her family did with Folden. But, that day is not today and is unlikely to be tomorrow. Until then, I’ll continue to strongly support Me Fine with my time, energy, and financial contributions. My time on the board may be coming to an end, but my passion for Me Fine has never been stronger.
Thank you to Me Fine – our board members, our staff, and our supporters – for the opportunity to help shape and grow such an amazing cause. It has truly been among the most rewarding experiences of my life. And thank you in advance on behalf of all the families who we will serve in the months and years ahead through your continued hard work and dedication. The best is yet to come.
Jake Connors has served six years on the Me Fine Foundation Board of Directors, including Board Chair in 2016. Currently, he chairs the Development Committee. Outside of Me Fine, Jake is a Senior Director with Compass Financial Partners.