How One Foundation Is Working To Empower And Assist Families Coping With Serious Childhood...

When a child gets a life threatening illness, it can become extremely hard for the family to manage taking care of their kid without letting the financial strain of treatment get to them. The Chris Hope Foundation works with these families to alleviate that stress so they can focus on what’s most important, their child’s health.

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One of the scariest things a parent can endure is having their child get sick with cancer or any other life-threatening illness. Beyond the obvious emotional toll that comes with having a sick child in the family, many parents and caregivers also need to worry about the cost of treatments, hospital visits, medicine, etc. 

Worrying about money should be the last thing on a parent/guardian’s mind when they have a child battling a serious illness. The only thing they should have to worry about is providing the best level of care and support for their child, but unfortunately for many, that’s just not the case. 

Many families are forced to move, quit their jobs, work overtime, and essentially spend their days and nights figuring out how they’re going to manage all of their finances while taking care of a sick child. Chris Hope is an individual from Memphis, Tennessee who saw many families in the hospital system struggling with a multitude of financial burdens while their child was also struggling with a severe illness. After witnessing so much emotional distress from the numerous families out there financially struggling with a sick child, he decided to do something about it, and thus, The Chris Hope Foundation was born.

“When childhood cancer and other life-threatening illnesses take families away from their homes for treatment, it also takes parents away from their jobs, and kids away from the comfort of their own belongings. The Chris Hope Foundation works hard to empower and assist these families, while also fighting back against serious childhood illness.”

Back in 2015, Hope was visiting a friend’s child at St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital when he heard a mother in the room next door anxiously trying to figure out how she was going to pay her mortgage while her child was in treatment. This mother was on the phone with her mortgage company who was trying to kick her out of her house, meanwhile her child only had two weeks of treatment left. 

“In that moment it all got real for me, I wasn’t just watching a TV commercial or reading a story online, I was hearing and witnessing this story unfold right in front of me. Hearing this particular family struggle to figure out how they’re going to keep their home after enduring an unimaginable amount of stress from having their child go through treatment made me want to do so much more.”

“Me and some friends all pitched in $100 and luckily we were able to pay the mortgage for them so they could remain living in their home. Seeing the reaction from this family gave me all I needed in terms of inspiration to start my own foundation and help as many other people as I could in a similar situation.”

“You know those really big juicy hugs you would get from your grandma growing up? The ones where you’d have to push her off because she was squeezing so tight you couldn’t breathe? That’s the type of hug I felt from that family after we helped them pay their mortgage. Feeling that amount of love after doing one act of kindness for a family who truly deserved it was life-changing, and I like to think that that was the day the Chris Hope Foundation was truly born.”

According to the foundation’s website, “Chris Hope has served countless families in the Southeast experiencing the radical effects of pediatric cancer and other life-threatening illnesses. Additionally, he leads TeamHOPE as the team captain in the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital Marathon. In just three short years, the team has recruited more than 150 fundraising heroes to help raise over $561,000 for the hospital.”

When discussing the overall goal of the foundation, Hope spoke passionately about the need for change within the healthcare system, especially when it comes to financial burdens being placed on lower income families with sick children. 

“I want people to realize that there is a need that’s not being addressed among families who have a child with cancer and other life threatening illnesses. We hear about the kids and how hard it is for them to endure treatments and coping with illness, but there’s this other layer of family stress. These families are suffering because they have to walk away from their jobs and homes to take care of their kids, and then on top of that they have to deal with the financial strain that comes with treatments and doctors visits, which adds another unnecessary amount of stress to their lives, so that’s where we come in.”

“The Chris Hope Foundation mainly functions by working with these families’ social workers. We find that this is easiest because their social workers are the most knowledgeable about their situation, so they really have the greatest understanding of what the families will need from us in order to lessen their burden.”

Hope discussed how as the foundation has grown over the years he’s come to realize that even the smaller means of assistance can make all the difference for a family in need.

When we first started, obviously we wanted to help as many people as possible. Initially it was a lot of helping people with the larger bills in their lives, like car insurance, however, as we’ve grown and expanded we realized that even something as small as an Amazon gift card can make a difference for someone. So we also began to focus on smaller means of assistance as well so that we could help even more individuals.” 

In order to actually find families that need their assistance, the foundation will typically be contacted by social workers who can send referrals for families with particular needs that they believe the foundation can assist with. 

“There will be times when we can’t fully assist someone when it comes to finances, however, we’re lucky enough that other organizations and foundations will partner with us to help provide full payments to these families who need it.”

One of the most successful projects that the foundation has completed is known as the CHF Family House. “Because treatment regimes can be very long, parents can be taken away from their hometowns and their jobs. Job loss is more common in these cases than we like to think about. Once job loss occurs, household bills start piling up, which makes it hard to cover necessities, such out-of-town lodging during treatment.” The Family House provides a safe and clean space where families can wait for their child while they’re at treatment, stay if they’re in between places, or just take a day to unwind from their everyday stresses.

Initially, Hope discussed how the Family House was a dream he had when the foundation first began. “The CHF Family House was literally just a dream that I had when the foundation first started. When we were creating the foundation initially I mentioned how cool it would be to buy a house and keep it vacant for any families who need a place to stay, recover, etc. but I never could’ve imagined we’d actually be able to do it so promptly.” 

“One of my good friend’s mom passed away a couple years back and she still had some time and money on the house she was living in. Neither my friend nor the town really wanted to take on the property so obviously I immediately thought it was the perfect opportunity to have the foundation come in and take over to bring our Family House fantasy to life; and that’s exactly what we did. So the Foundation covered the last few payments on the house, and it was honestly perfect timing because this was around when the pandemic started, so a lot of hospitals were changing their policies about when and how long parents/caregivers can be with their child in the hospital.” 

“In the beginning of the pandemic there really was no way for these families to stay connected. Imagine having a sick child in the hospital and barely being able to see them, you just have to sit outside knowing they’re in there alone and sick and you can’t do anything about it. The house officially opened back in September 2020, and we immediately were able to help keep a family together while their child endured treatment.”

“Throughout the past six years, I’ve seen first hand how the work we do at the Chris Hope Foundation impacts the families themselves. I hear the stories, I see the reactions, and even the social workers who we work very closely with are always trying to give us more work because they know how much it means to us.”

Hope continued on to discuss how the Family House is a great representation of the foundation’s work as a whole because of the amount of time, effort, and love that went into it. “When we acquired the initial property we completely gutted it, and I told myself the house needed to be something that I myself would want to live in before we open the doors, and we definitely accomplished that. It’s such a nice property I really am so proud of it and all the help it’s providing these families, who have also been so appreciative. The families will leave behind notes and even gifts sometimes because of how thankful they are, and that really means the world to me and motivates me to work even harder.” 

“One of our most recent residents at the house is a father who’s daughter is currently enduring a relapse of her cancer treatment. This dad told me he really wasn’t around a lot during her first time being sick and this time he wanted to change that. The Family House gives these families a safe place to play, recover, and take a break from all the craziness that comes from illness. 

The Family House is honestly one of our biggest and most successful projects to date. We’re constantly getting calls from social workers asking about potential openings, and obviously we want to help everyone but since the demand has been so incredible, we’re already looking into opening one or two more houses nearby to hopefully help everyone more easily.”

Beyond providing an entire house for families, Hope also mentioned how the smaller things that he never really puts a lot of thought into actually make a world of difference for these kids, which makes the work he does even more rewarding for him. 

“We work a lot with local hospitals and other charitable organizations that help families with sick children as well. We’ve donated numerous toys and coloring books to the hospitals before, and honestly in those moments I never feel like I’m doing enough, however, seeing a child’s reaction to a brand new toy when they’ve been stuck in a hospital bed makes you realize that the smaller things also make all the difference when it comes to a kids happiness. The reactions to the small things motivate us to work even harder to provide the bigger means of assistance as well. ” 

“The reaction alone is really what makes it all worth it for me. The individuals working with me at the Chris Hope Foundation all have the same mindset when it comes to what we do here everyday. It’s not about making any source of income, it’s about having the heart to make a difference where you know you can. There’s so many families who are struggling and who need assistance but are completely overlooked and we want them to feel like they’re really being seen and listened to. That’s what inspires me, the fact that I know this job will never be done and there will always be a family to help, and we have the ability to do so.”

In terms of annual charity events and projects, Hope discussed how they’re constantly looking for ways to fundraise. “We do a lot of fundraising events and work throughout the year but our most famous event is our Race For Hope 5K and 10K. The annual race is one of our biggest and most popular events in general. Additionally every quarter we try to work with Feed The Families so that our volunteers can actually help first hand and hear from these families themselves, instead of just listening to me and others talk about how important the work we do is.” 

If you want to help support the Chris Hope Foundation and all the amazing work that they do, whether it be through donation or volunteering, check out their website! Additionally, you can follow them on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook!