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Volunteer Spotlight

The Man Behind Carlson & Co.

James Carlson has a warmth about him that comes across instantly. He is a very successful businessman who started his career in landscaping, and now he and his wife, Liz, own several businesses, most of which are related to floral design, weddings, and event planning. He also has a big heart and is committed to giving back to his community.

One of the ways he gives back is through CURE’s Catie’s Gathering dinners. Catie’s Gathering dinners are inspiring events benefiting Catie’s Fund of CURE. These special dinners are right up James’ alley because each table hostess brings their own flair to decorate their table. Looking around the room, you’ll find tables with such themes as the Kentucky Derby, the roaring 20s, and Southern gentility. Since the first dinner in Effingham, Catie’s Gathering has grown from one to five separate events in southeast Georgia.

“I met James at the very first dinner,” said Jenny Wilkins, Catie’s mother and founder of the event. “James came to help decorate. That year we had just ten tables and 100 people. We have about 800 people at the events now, and James has been to every one.”

He also supports the events tangibly and has increased his support every year. He provides tables and chairs, stage decorations, café lighting, and set-up and tear-down for the events in both Savannah and Effingham. This year, he approached Jenny and asked if his company, Carlson & Co, could be the presenting sponsor of Effingham’s event.

“We couldn’t put a dollar amount on the value of his support,” Jenny said. “He is such a crazy character that has such a big heart. I don’t think there is anything he wouldn’t do for CURE.”

While he has no direct tie to childhood cancer, he has seen local families struggle while going through treatment, and CURE’s local support of these families is one of the big reasons he chose to partner with CURE.

“I’ve watched Catie’s Gathering evolve from hostesses using paper plates and plastic forks to using fine china and silverware,” James laughed. “I’m proud to be a part because of the impact it allows CURE to have in our community.”

James has also become involved in the leadership of Catie’s Fund. He was instrumental in forming a board of directors for the fund to increase its reach by sharing its work in the community. That influence has directly increased the number of Catie’s Gathering sponsors.

“Networking is the biggest thing. I think getting out in the community, speaking to people, and getting to know them is important,” said James. “You really need to focus on building long-term relationships with the people around you.”

We appreciate James’ dedication to children with cancer and how he has helped Catie’s Fund by using his business acumen and community focus.

“I can’t quit the kids”

Glance behind the scenes at CURE and you will find an entire team of staff, board members, parents of cancer patients, and others in the community who are working diligently to ensure we are doing everything we can to meet the needs of families of kids with cancer. CURE’s Patient and Family Services (PFS) committee meets regularly to discuss the needs of families, evaluate our current programs, and brainstorm about new ones that will help ease the burdens faced during and after treatment.

At a recent PFS committee meeting, one of the newest members introduced her motives for participation by saying, “I can’t quit the kids.”

Peggy Kerns is a retired nurse who spent 37 years caring for children with cancer. Originally from Chattanooga, TN, she studied at Samford before coming to Egleston Children’s Hospital in Atlanta, where she worked side-by-side with CURE’s founder, Dr. Abdel Ragab.

“When I started in nursing, children weren’t surviving even leukemias that are very treatable today,” she recalled. “Treatment has changed so much over the years, but what never changes is the children. Even during the toughest days, the kids always find a way to be happy.”

Over the years, Peggy has worked with hundreds of children. She’s seen them grow up to become nurses, doctors, authors, and other types of professionals. She has also absorbed losses with their families – which she describes as the hardest part of her job.

“When you treat a child for months or years, they become part of your family,” Peggy said. “I didn’t have children of my own, but I’ve connected with so many families during a very difficult time. That has been my reward.”

Peggy’s dedication went beyond her job. She has volunteered at CURE events and for many years she has served meals to patients and their families through CURE’s Open Arms program. Her retirement three years ago left a void. So she joined CURE’s PFS committee to make sure families are getting what they need to cope with treatment.

“CURE is a bright light in so many lives during a very dark time, and I’m so glad to be a little part of it,” she said. “When you add cancer to the problems a family already has, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. We’re lucky to have CURE here in Georgia.”

And families are lucky to have dedicated nurses like Peggy. While fighting a Wilms tumor, Mitchell Odendahl was one of her patients. He is now a senior at Clemson University studying mechanical engineering, and his mother, Lisa, works for CURE.

“Peggy was Mitchell’s primary clinic nurse, and she was like a ray of sunshine,” Lisa said. “He was only 18 months old, and she was so good at putting him at ease. She became part of our family – even attending Mitchell’s second birthday party. It’s one of my greatest joys that I get to stay in contact with her through CURE! She’s a special lady.”

Peggy had opportunities to move into management over the years but turned them down because she knew her calling was to be by the bedside.

“Some people go through life without knowing what they are supposed to do,” Peggy said. “I’m fortunate that I found my purpose early.”



Volunteer Spotlight on Leslie Edmond

If you attend CURE events, chances are you’ve seen Leslie Edmond. Although you might have to look hard to catch a glimpse because you typically won’t find her on stage or in the spotlight. No, she’ll be the one with her sleeves rolled up behind the scenes doing whatever it takes to ensure success. And there’s nowhere else she’d rather be.

Leslie found CURE during her family’s fight against childhood cancer. Her very active eight-year-old son, Matthew, ran a low-grade fever for two weeks and was noticeably slower at an end-of-season swim meet. When he complained of neck pain and she found a lump, her concern escalated. Fortunately, he had a routine check-up scheduled for the following day. But his pediatrician found more lumps on his chest and sent him to a specialist.

After a long process that included bloodwork, biopsy, and many more tests, Matthew was diagnosed with anaplastic large-cell lymphoma. His treatment consisted of chemotherapy that lasted a full year.

“I would describe him as a healthy cancer patient,” Leslie said. “He handled chemo well and we only had to make one emergency trip to the hospital.”

As a cancer mom, Leslie was invited to one of the first A Tribute to Our Quiet Heroes luncheons and it made quite an impression.

“Most Saturdays I was doing laundry or driving the mom shuttle somewhere,” she recalled. “But there I was dressed up and sitting at a table with these women I didn’t know. But really, I knew every one of them because we shared such a deep common experience. It was beautiful.”

That Saturday set something in motion for her – a desire to pay it forward. Leslie wanted other moms fighting for their children’s lives to be made to feel as special as she did that day. So she contacted CURE and offered to help. She didn’t limit her involvement to Quiet Heroes, though. Since then, she has served in many other capacities. Leslie delivers meals to the clinic on Tuesdays, she has tied up Christmas bows and pound cakes, stuffed invitations, and served on auction committees.

Leslie at Quiet Heroes with fellow volunteers: Leigh Ann Herrin, Eileen and Maggie Villoutreix

“I like to be a part of several things because I get to see the extent of CURE’s care and relationship with the families,” Leslie explained. “One of the most rewarding and challenging things I’ve done is volunteer at the bereavement weekends. Seeing the parents working through their grief and thinking maybe I had a small part in helping just one of them makes it all worthwhile.”

Leslie is constantly encouraging others to volunteer. For those interested, she has three pieces of advice:

  • Be flexible and fill whatever gaps are needed.
  • No job is insignificant. Every small thing is important to the whole effort.
  • Not everyone can write a big check, but everyone can do something to help.

Matthew is twenty-eight years old now and lives in Chattanooga where he can enjoy climbing, camping, and all of the outdoor activities he loves. He is very fortunate to have no obvious side effects from the treatment.

And Leslie, she is still serving at every opportunity. In fact, recently, as Leslie was working the registration desk at CURE’s Weekend of Hope and Healing, a mother noticed her name tag and said, “You’re a CURE Volunteer? I want to be a volunteer.”

Leslie just smiled and replied confidently, “When you’re ready, there is a place for you.”

Bringing Comfort

Sitting with her husband in their Charlotte home, Kim Griggs appreciated the comfort and warmth she felt underneath the soft afghan that covered her. Diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer, Kim was struggling mightily with debilitating mouth sores brought on by her treatment. As she rested, her mind began to wonder how hard it must be for a child to endure chemo and have such painful mouth sores. Her heart sank as she considered a child going through this same pain.

“I was under that comfortable blanket and it just came to me,” she said. “I’m going to make a quilt for a child.”

The idea brought her excitement, but was fraught with problems – chief of which was that even though her grandmother had been an avid quilter, Kim had never made a quilt before! But she quickly determined that fact wasn’t going to stop her. When she felt better, she went to a quilt store for advice. Soon after, she was taking pants to a neighbor to be hemmed and discovered that this friend had a quilting machine and taught classes. So she enrolled and her journey began.

Quilting became a focus for her and a distraction from her own treatment. The activity kept her moving. As she worked, she prayed over each one, praying that they would bring comfort and healing to the child who soon lay underneath. She named her mission, Quilts of Virtue.

Before she finished her own treatment for her own cancer, she had made thirteen quilts to give away. That last one was sent to a little girl in Maryland who would soon pass away. The girl’s mother sent Kim a letter thanking her for the quilt and told her that her daughter had been under it when she passed. She now sleeps under it every night.

“After I finished weeping for that little girl’s family,” Kim said. “I was glad I had sent it and now it meant something special to her mother.”

Kim would move back home to Atlanta soon after her treatment concluded. In all, she had four rounds of chemo and thirty-six rounds of radiation and now she is a six-year survivor.

“My health is really good! I am blessed!”

Of course, she has continued to make quilts for children fighting cancer. In Atlanta, she linked up with CURE and asked for the names of three children who wanted a quilt. CURE also discovered things the children liked so that Kim could make each quilt special and unique. When she finished those three, she asked for three more names. That cycle continues today.

And she still prays comfort and healing over each one. In fact, she began mentoring young ladies at her church where she started a ministry called Kingdom International Missions. She hopes to pass on more than just the art of quilting. She wants to instill moral truths and teach the girls to be considerate of others.

All in all, Kim estimates she has made nearly one hundred quilts for childhood cancer patients; each one as unique and special as the child it comforts. She doesn’t have plans to stop making them any time soon.

“I don’t believe in retirement,” she laughed. “I’ll keep making them until the end.”

Kim’s goal of bringing comfort to children fighting cancer aligns with CURE’s mission to walk with patients and their families as a resource and friend from diagnosis, through treatment, and beyond. We are grateful every time we can spread one of Kim’s quilts over a patient, knowing the comfort and hope it will bring.