Faces of Me Fine: Meet Mary Mendez

Caty, Cassie, and Mary at Second Hope Store

Mary (pictured on far right) with her colleagues Caty (left) and Cassie (center) at Second Hope Shop in Princeton

In our new series, “Faces of Me Fine,” we will highlight the dedicated people who make sure the organization achieves its mission to support critically ill children and their families at Duke, UNC, and WakeMed Children’s Hospitals. In this post, meet Mary, a member of the team at Second Hope Shop in Princeton, North Carolina.

A serendipitous connection via the job recruitment website brought Mary into the Second Hope Shop. The recruiter noted that the store was in need of a bilingual employee. Able to meet those needs, Mary joined the team in 2017 as a cashier and a proud Princeton resident.

She is a mother of two children: Aiden (5) and Anna (2). Me Fine’s mission resonates with her, and as she has found, with her customers too. “Customers share their personal connections to Me Fine all of the time,” noted Mary.

One of her personal highlights at Second Hope Shop is making someone’s day by helping them find that perfect item. “You know, the one that they’ve been looking for and looking for, and have gone to other stores to find,” she explained. “I tell them ‘well, you should have come here first!'”

Me Fine’s Second Hope Shop is located at 5100 US Hwy 70 East in Princeton, North Carolina. You can find updates on sales and specials on the store’s Facebook page or give them a call at 919-202-0445.

For Immediate Release: Local artists Django Haskins, Skylar Gudasz to help sick children at Music for Me Fine

March 26, 2018
Contact: Joey Powell;

Local artists Django Haskins, Skylar Gudasz to help sick children at Music for Me Fine
Me Fine Foundation’s annual benefit concert raises funds for families at Triangle-area hospitals

RALEIGH: No family ever expects their child to be diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening medical condition. Sadly, it happens every day – and families in these situations often find that there are significant financial costs associated with treating their child that are not covered by any insurance or safety net program available. The Music for Me Fine benefit concert, now in its third year, will allow the Me Fine Foundation to provide hope for impacted families.

Two well-known North Carolina musicians, Django Haskins, lead singer of The Old Ceremony, and Skylar Gudasz, will headline the April 20th show hosted at All Saints Chapel in downtown Raleigh. Additionally, local musician Eric Scholz will open the evening with a solo acoustic set. The emphasis on showcasing local support and talent is key for Me Fine. Empire Eats, a longtime partner of this event, will provide the catering while Raleigh’s own Lonerider Brewing Company and Crude Bitters will offer beer and a signature cocktail for the special evening.

Doors at All Saints Chapel open at 7:00pm with music slated to begin at 8:00pm. Tickets start at $55 for individuals and $100 for couples with prices increasing on April 1. For more information about Music for Me Fine, including to purchase tickets, visit

“We created Music for Me Fine as an opportunity for people to support an important cause that has a real and direct impact on fellow members of our communities,” noted Ben Steel, board member and chair of Music for Me Fine. “The outpouring of support in our first two years has been remarkable. We anticipate this year’s event to be the biggest one yet, which means that our organization will be able to assist more families in need at our partner hospitals.”

Last year, Me Fine distributed nearly $100,000 in direct financial assistance to 211 families at Duke and UNC Children’s Hospitals. After expanding into WakeMed Children’s Hospital in late 2017, the organization projects supporting an additional 50 – 75 families with help covering costs ranging from rent and mortgage payments to gas cards and groceries. Me Fine also provides emotional support resources for these families.

2018 Music For Me Fine Mainstage Sponsors include Southern First Bank, Sunbelt Rentals, and Empire Properties. This year’s Headliner Sponsors are Environmental Holdings Group (EHG) and FastMed. Sponsorship opportunities still available at


Me Fine Foundation is a nonprofit organization committed to ensuring families whose children face a devastating medical crisis are able to receive financial assistance, emotional support and other necessary resources to sustain the loss of income due to the dramatic change in lifestyle while undergoing treatment at Duke, UNC, or WakeMed Children’s Hospitals. For more information, please call (919) 202-0086 or visit

Faces of Me Fine: Meet Aiyana Watson

In our new series, “Faces of Me Fine,” we will highlight the dedicated people who make sure the organization achieves its mission to support critically ill children and their families at Duke, UNC, and WakeMed Children’s Hospitals. Today, meet Aiyana, a member of the team at Second Hope Shop in Princeton, North Carolina.

Aiyana wearing a gray long sleeved t-shirt and jeans standing in front of clothing racks at Second Hope Store

Although a current sophomore at Princeton High School, Aiyana does not hesitate when asked what she envisions for her career ahead.

“Law enforcement,” Aiyana replied confidently. “I’ve known since middle school. My favorite TV show was Criminal Minds, and that got me started. Working for the FBI is my dream job.”

Aiyana started at Second Hope in August 2017, but it wasn’t her first time to the store. She had been a regular customer and was looking for part-time work. Mary Angel provides a flexible work schedule, so Aiyana is able to work three to four days after school and on the weekends.

When she’s not at school or working at the thrift store, Aiyana enjoys spending time with her dad, especially playing softball. She had played for the school team previously, but was unsure if she would go out this spring. Aiyana looks up to her dad, who is the person who helped connect her to working at Second Hope; he works with kids in need of stable homes. His commitment to being a partner for kids in his community is similar to how Me Fine partners with families going through the unimaginable with their critically ill children.

Me Fine’s Second Hope Shop is located at 5100 US Hwy 70 East in Princeton, North Carolina. You can find updates on sales and specials on the store’s Facebook page or give them a call at 919-202-0445.

Faces of Me Fine: Meet Maryssa Proctor

In our new series, “Faces of Me Fine,” we will highlight the dedicated people who make sure the organization achieves its mission to support critically ill children and their families at Duke, UNC, and WakeMed Children’s Hospitals. First up, meet Maryssa, a member of the team at Second Hope Shop in Princeton, North Carolina.

Maryssa Proctor sitting behind desk wearing gray shirt and jeansThis seventeen-year-old, current Princeton High School senior, started working part-time after initially volunteering at the shop for a school project. “I really liked the atmosphere and the people,” Maryssa shared. She works with Ms. Barbara to price the donations after they have gone through the initial processing.

Thanks to the support of Johnston County, Maryssa takes classes through Johnston County Community College, including psychology and American Sign Language. She is a member of the BETA Club and played on the girls’ volleyball team for four years. While school may feel like home for a lot of high school students, Maryssa’s connection might be the closest imaginable: both of her parents work at Princeton High School! Her mom, Angie, is an English teacher while her dad, Bruce, serves as the school’s Athletic Director. Madelyn, Maryssa’s younger sister, is currently a sophomore.

What’s next for Maryssa after high school? “I’m not sure yet,” she reflected. “I’ll be close to completing my Associate’s Degree through JCCC just from high school, so I’ll finish that coursework for sure.”

Me Fine’s Second Hope Shop is located at 5100 US Hwy 70 East in Princeton, North Carolina. You can find updates on sales and specials on the store’s Facebook page or give them a call at 919-202-0445

Anything Worth Having is Worth Waiting For

By Meredith Izlar, Program Director, Me Fine Foundation

Anything worth having is worth waiting for. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

These are a couple of the mantras I held tightly onto for my first two years as Me Fine Foundation’s part-time Family Assistance Coordinator.

During these two years, I talked with parents who spent weeks in and out of hospital rooms with their children; I listened to their fears about the present as well as the future. I interviewed hospital staff and took down their wish lists in pages of notes: teen support groups, programs for siblings, outreach for overwhelmed parents. And for two years, I saw the wider community as well — supporters energized about our mission and eager to serve, ready to give generously of their time and talent (and toys!).

But I didn’t have a way to channel the outpouring of support to the families who needed it.

Over this time, I spent hours alongside Jaclyn Starritt, Me Fine board member and child psychologist, brainstorming a myriad of ways that people could get involved with Me Fine’s emotional support programs in the hospitals. “Who wouldn’t want to throw a Christmas In July carnival for in-patient children?”, we asked ourselves. “Who wouldn’t get excited about new programs to help siblings cope with their brother or sister’s illness?” Still, we didn’t have a framework for how all of the pieces would fit together. How could we coordinate the efforts of multiple volunteers on multiple projects at multiple hospitals, all in ways that were meaningful and fed back to Me Fine’s mission?

In the end, growth happened the way it always does — in a series of stutters, false starts, and revised efforts that eventually becomes a big step forward.

Now as a full-time staff member, I have the time to invest in a coordinated effort of volunteers to meet our families’ psychosocial emotional needs. I’m pleased to share that we held our first meeting of the new-and-improved Emotional Support Programs Committee on February 16! The committee will field requests from hospital staff, coordinate special events, and develop innovative approaches to the challenges families face while a child is treated for critical or chronic illness. Our team includes several board members, two child psychologists, a parent of a child with critical illness, a retired pediatrician, and nearly a dozen other community members passionate about supporting kids and families.

As we discussed our plan for the year, I felt a new mantra take shape: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Although the process of creating this group felt Herculean at times, it’s the first step towards our greater goal: increasing our impact on the children and families struggling with critical or chronic illness every day. The enthusiasm and combined talents of this incredible group of people, working together, truly have the capacity to transform lives. I’m grateful to each of them for their willingness to get involved more deeply with our work.

Searching for the goodness: Sofie’s gift of life miracle

“When you’re in the hospital for that length of time, you search for the goodness. [Me Fine’s support] was one of the miracles for the whole six weeks.”

In August 2012, Melissa and her husband temporarily moved into Duke Children’s Hospital. All because of Sofie.

Baby Sofie, lying on her left side facing the camera with a tube going into her right nostril

Sofie was born with Biliary Atresia, a rare disease that prevents bile (which transports waste) from being removed from the liver. As the bile began to build up in Sofie, her liver started to fail. For this five-month-old, a liver transplant was the family’s only option.

Neither parent wanted to leave their daughter’s side as the wait for a new liver began. Sofie was so tiny that it was difficult for match her with an appropriate-sized donor. Her medical team turned down several potential matches. Three weeks passed. Then, the Blackmon’s received the news: a match. But, after an initially successful transplant, the new liver clotted. The waiting ordeal started again.

Sofie’s health was growing ever precarious day after day. Throughout the six weeks at Duke, Melissa and her husband traded off staying at the hospital so that at least one parent was with Sofie at all times. Their other two children, ages 7 and 5 at the time, remained at home with Melissa’s parents, who had traveled down from Maryland.

“My son actually turned five during this time,” Melissa reflected. “Since he was just starting kindergarten, we would take the hour drive home from Duke early in in the morning, to just see him off to school on his first few days.”

Still, the family waited for the precious gift of life for their daughter. One week after her first transplant, Sofie underwent her second, which proved to be an absolute success.

Sofie, age 5, wearing a t-shirt that says: "Donate Life Recipient"

Thanks to her selfless donor and the donor’s family, Sofie is a happy, healthy kid!

Even in the midst of such welcomed news, the time spent in the hospital added up for Melissa and her family in multiple ways. The expenses from several weeks of a hotel stay, gasoline traveling back and forth to see their kids, and eating out for that length of time added up. Her youngest son even celebrated his fifth birthday in the hospital courtyard, with an extra gift provided by MeFine.

For the Blackmon family, Me Fine Foundation provided behind-the-scenes support to offset some of their financial worries in the form of gas cards, gift cards for groceries, baby toys for Sofie, and presents for Melissa to gift her kids. Being away from her other two children during those six weeks was difficult and painful; for Melissa, having the chance to reward them for their patience and flexibility was graciously welcomed.

“When you’re in hospital for that length of time, you search for the goodness. That was one of the miracles for the whole six weeks,” Melissa reflected.

Melissa continues to pay her own family’s miracle forward as a full-time staff member with Donate Life North Carolina, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting awareness of organ, eye, and tissue donation. North Carolinians can register to become donors through the Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and online here.


Sofie wearing a Marvel superhero outfit being held on her mom, Melissas hip

Sofie and her mom, Melissa, started the “Be a Hero” 5k run/walk

Canes, Cole to Provide Suite to Me Fine Foundation

Canes, Cole to Provide Suite to Me Fine Foundation

Me Fine provides financial and emotional support to over 1,400 critically ill children and their families

by Miles Terry @NHLCanes / Carolina Hurricanes News Release

RALEIGH, NC – The Carolina Hurricanes, former Hurricanes player and team ambassador Erik Cole and the Me Fine Foundation announced a partnership today to provide families of critically ill children a suite to all Hurricanes home games for the remainder of the 2017-18 season.

Cole will purchase the 14-person suite, which includes food and beverage and parking passes. Cole, who serves as the Hurricanes team ambassador, played 892 career NHL games with the Hurricanes, Oilers, Canadiens, Stars and Red Wings. He recorded 532 points (265g, 267a) in his career and captured the Stanley Cup championship with the Hurricanes in 2006. The Oswego, NY, native appeared in 557 career games with Carolina, and ranks in the top 10 in franchise history in games played, points (363), hat tricks (5) and shorthanded goals (8).

“Having a true community partner like the Hurricanes’ Kids ‘N Community Foundation is an incredible asset for Me Fine’s work,” Me Fine Foundation Executive Director Joey Powell said. “To see a champion like Erik Cole believing in us is a priceless endorsement of our mission.”

Since 2004, the Me Fine Foundation has provided both financial and emotional support to over 1,400 critically ill children and their families. Me Fine works with families from across North Carolina whose children are being treated by Duke Children’s Medical Center, UNC Children’s Hospital, or WakeMed Children’s Hospital. The organization benefits individuals of every race, diagnosis, religious affiliation and economic status. The Me Fine Foundation is a Kids ‘N Community Foundation grant recipient and has received $25,000 in Game Changer Grants since 2014.

As “The Heart of the Carolina Hurricanes,” the Kids ‘N Community Foundation strives to meet the health and educational needs of underserved populations and strengthen youth hockey in our community through programming and financial assistance to local, youth-oriented organizations. Since the establishment of the non-profit Foundation in 1997, over $14 million in cash has been awarded to non-profit organizations that focus on enhancing the lives of youth in our community. With the ongoing support of our annual special events, Hurricanes players, staff and the corporate community, the Kids ‘N Community Foundation is able to fund many causes including scholarship programs, youth hockey initiatives, education and literacy efforts, health programs and the arts.

To see this news release on the Carolina Hurricanes website, click here.

Supporter Spotlight: Mike and Kristin Molitoris

The Molitoris family at ChristmasFar from the flat lands of Nebraska, where they first met, Mike and Kristin Molitoris wasted little time in finding ways to make an impact in their new home of North Carolina after moving to the Triangle from Baltimore in 2011.

As part of introducing his business (Flagship Wealth Management Group, LLC) to their new home, Mike spent a lot of time networking in the community, which ended up with him crossing paths with Joey Powell, Me Fine’s current Executive Director. Over a mutual love for sports and call to serve their communities, Mike became a pivotal part of the Me Fine family, bringing his wife Kristin and their three children along for the journey.

After the birth of two healthy children, Mike and Kristin experienced a bit of a bumpier ride after the birth of their son Luke. Luke had elevated levels of billirubin, causing him to be jaundice. Normally this clears within a couple of days or with light therapy, but Luke’s condition did not improve after leaving the hospital. In fact, his health grew worse, prompting Mike and Kristin to rush him to the NICU at WakeMed (now part of the Me Fine Foundation family as of late 2017). Fortunately, the skilled medical team intervened quickly, and today, Luke is a happy and healthy two-year-old.

But, for Mike and Kristin, that experience gave them insight into how quickly costs associated with medical care can accumulate and how these additional burdens layer on the already-weighted shoulders of parents and caretakers trying to care for critically-ill children. For them, supporting the work of Me Fine just made sense.

“Me Fine’s mission is about the practical stuff,” Kristin noted. “The cost of gas can be a huge obstacle. Travel can impact a family’s ability to be there for their children, especially the farther they live from the hospital. This is an added level of stress that no one should have to go through.”

Kristin also volunteers with the Diaper Bank of North Carolina, a nonprofit dedicated to ensuring every family in North Carolina has access to basic necessities to support their dignity, health, and quality of life. Me Fine shares the Diaper Bank of NC’s vision, and the Molitoris family helps to raise greater awareness and visibility of both organizations through their personal and professional networks.

As Mike launched Flagship Wealth Management Group back in 2010, he embraced one of the core values that was instilled in him during his military service: a commitment to giving back to his community. “That was one of the reasons I left corporate America – it was about getting good press, not simply because it was the right thing to do” he reflected. True to his word, Mike has helped open countless doors to spreading the word about Me Fine’s mission and additional financial resources to put our mission into action.

“How could you not want to support an organization like the Me Fine Foundation?” Mike said. “Who doesn’t want to help children and their families? It’s a no brainer.”

What’s Ahead in 2018 for Me Fine Foundation and You

For those of you who don’t know me, I have an affinity for old-school professional wrestling, or “wrasslin'” as it’s colloquially known around here. One of my favorite lines from Dusty Rhodes, better known as “The American Dream,” was how he described his life was when trying to win the world heavyweight championship: like “living on the end of a lightning bolt.” Dusty had quite a way with words. But he was trying to explain to all of us out in TV land that his career was the world’s biggest roller-coaster ride, filled with earth-shattering turns, excitement, power, and something that rivaled a celestial explosion.

I feel like the Me Fine Foundation is living on the end of a lightning bolt right now, and believe me when I tell you that it’s quite an amazing feeling.

Woman holding multiracial child up in the air. The child is earing a blue and white striped jumper.

We wrapped up 2017 with our first-ever expansion into a new hospital, launching service at WakeMed Children’s. Although that growth took a few years of work by a lot of dedicated folks, it has already produced incredible response from families who are thrilled to have Me Fine’s help along their child’s journey at that hospital.

As much as I want to take a moment and reflect on this major accomplishment for our community, I find myself repeatedly feeling charged to move immediately forward because of this event. Harness the energy, the excitement, the GOOD in helping an entirely new population, and bull-rush our way forward. How could I even think about slowing down from that?

The short answer is: Me Fine is NOT slowing down. The organization enters 2018 with some amazing momentum, goodwill, and motivation and also large aspirations for internal improvements and organizational evolution.

To our DONORS: you’re going to hear from us more regularly. We’re working to put our value of stewardship into action so you know how much we appreciate you and for you to stay abreast of ways you can continue to help us deliver our mission to the children and families who need us most.

To our CORPORATE PARTNERS: we’ve got multiple opportunities coming your way to partner with Me Fine’s mission in new and innovative ways. We want your customers to know how much you mean to us and how powerful of an ally you’ve become.

To the HOSPITALS where we operate: we’re adapting to the challenges in the healthcare landscape. Me Fine aims to be a smarter, broader, and more reliable partner to enhance the patient experience of care that you so dependably deliver.

Finally, to our KIDS & FAMILIES: we hear you and you’re not alone. We’re working harder than ever to raise more money and to be more of what you need as you navigate your treatment journeys and hold your families together. Me Fine is going to continue to be on your team and in your corner to strengthen when you need us.

2018 is going to be a remarkable year. We hope you’ll consider how you might fit into Me Fine’s story this year. Whatever way that might be, we’ll save a seat on the lightning bolt for you.

All the best,

Joey Powell, Executive Director


PS: It’s never too early to start.

Not Just Babies – Parents Are Premature Too!

Written by Melissa R. Johnson, PhD

The world of the newborn intensive care unit is a hidden world, a place of both daily miracles and heartbreak. In the past several decades, advances in both medical and developmental care have led to major improvements in survival and long-term outcomes for babies born as early as 23 weeks. But for most people who are excited to discover that they are pregnant, what goes on in the NICU is a mystery that they would just as soon not think about.

For the majority of parents, the birth of a premie or a sick baby comes as a real shock. Sometimes there are a few days or even weeks of warning, if mom is experiencing complications or signs of early labor, though these complications themselves are often very stressful. In other cases, the first indicator that a baby is coming early is a sudden onset of labor months before the due date, or even the precipitous delivery of the baby at home or in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. All of these circumstances catapult the young family from anticipating a normal birth in a number of months, to an encounter with a tiny infant (or infants in the case of multiple birth)surrounded by technology in an overwhelming, complex setting.

Typically, parents feel as though their baby’s life is in the hands of others, and though these doctors, nurses and therapists are typically warm and caring, they are also total strangers. In my thirty years of working in a NICU as a developmental specialist and psychologist supporting families, I was always amazed by the courage, resilience, and love shown by families who often had no idea a few days earlier that their lives would be turned upside down. NICU staff members over the years have come to appreciate more and more deeply how critical parents are to the medical and developmental recovery of the baby, and how important emotional support of the parent is to facilitate the parents’ success in functioning effectively in the NICU and after discharge.

While the relationships among parents and the doctors, nurses, therapists, social workers, chaplains, medical secretaries, and all the other professionals in the unit are critical, there are many other ways that parents need support. The more parents can remain by the bedside, the more they can understand and advocate for their baby’s needs. Every hour spent holding a premature infant skin to skin (“kangaroo care”) benefits the baby’s developing body and brain.

But virtually every family faces unexpected obstacles. Practical issues such as parking costs, fuel expenses, food while visiting, child care for siblings, clothing for a tiny infant who will outgrow outfits rapidly, and life expenses when maternity and paternity leaves are not available or inadequate, add to the stress and sadness that families experience. Assistance with such needs are much more then optional extras – they can be critical to a young family taking their baby home feeling capable of facing the future.

I’ll never forget giving some parents gas cards made available through donations to our hospital, during one of many gas crisis periods when costs were especially high, and having both mothers and fathers start to cry tears of gratitude for what was basically one tank of gas to come visit their child. The work of organizations such as Me Fine, addressing the social and practical support needs of families whose children are in medical crisis, is critical in so many ways. It can truly make a difference in the long-term outcome of children and their parents as they find the strength to recover, grow, and develop together.

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