Closing the Gap for Kids

CancerFree KIDS helps fund innovative, pediatric cancer research right in our own backyard.

There are many nonprofits making a big impact in Mason and Deerfield and our neighboring communities. However, it’s safe to say few have impacted as many lives locally—and nationally—as CancerFree KIDS (CFK). Over the past 20 years, CancerFree KIDS has raised millions of dollars that have helped to fund hundreds of publications, multiple patents, clinical trials and so much more, all with one goal—ending childhood cancer. 

Although CancerFree KIDS’ reach is great and wide, the impetus for the nonprofit started small, in the eyes of Ellen and Sam Flannery’s five-month-old daughter. 

Parents gaze into their baby’s eyes to connect, express love and bond. But in the late 1990s, when the Flannerys looked into their daughter Shayna’s eyes, they noticed one was clouded white. 

Doctors diagnosed their baby with the unthinkable—retinoblastoma, a rare form of eye cancer that only impacts a few hundred children in the country every year. Luckily, their baby’s cancer was able to be removed before it spread to her brain.

Further treatments were required in Philadelphia, and it was during one of those trips that they found themselves with more questions than answers when it came to the slow progress toward finding a cure for childhood cancer. 

The main hold-up? There was a major gap in funding for pediatric cancer research, specifically in the early stages. So in 2002, the Flannerys decided to do something to close this gap—starting the nonprofit CancerFree KIDS with the goal of directly raising money to aid in research for and ultimately eradicating childhood cancer.  

How It Started

CFK began slowly, with Ellen raising money via events in the community and from individual donors. Two years later she raised $20,000, granting $10,000 each to two innovative researchers in the early stages of their work. One of the researchers was eventually able to create a start-up pharmaceutical company to conduct childhood cancer research clinical trials. 

CancerFree KIDS’ funds were often the first grants many researchers received, and it was because of this that Ellen found the nonprofit’s core focus—aiding new, promising research ideas that would otherwise go unfunded. 

“Our goal at CancerFree KIDS is to always stay on the cusp of the very best research out there,” CFK’s Marketing Manager, Cari Speed explains. “We have a renowned scientific advisory council leading our decision process for the grants we fund, and are confident they’ll keep us on the cutting edge of science that has the potential to make a true difference in the way we treat pediatric cancer. Everything we do works toward the goal to find better, more effective treatments that will change and save lives.”

How It’s Going

CancerFree KIDS is thrilled to report they’ve increased their fundraising efforts nearly every year since their founding, hitting the $1 million mark of total funds raised last year and increasing their funding by 20% in 2022 to fund $1.2 million in grants last year. With this money, the organization was able to grant 21 researchers in 2022.

Since its inception, CFK has granted $8.2 million. Many of their grant recipients (including Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, and Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus) were able to turn this initial funding into even more money for their projects—to the tune of $70 million—from other sources. 

Turns out, a little startup money goes a long, long way in the fight against childhood cancer.

How You Can Help

CancerFree KIDS raises the bulk of its money through four signature yearly fundraisers.

1. Night for the Fight is a high school overnight event coming up on February 25, planned by students, for students. Participants spend 12 hours at the Fifth Third Arena at the University of Cincinnati for a night filled with food, games, fun, inspiration and friendships. More info and registration is live now at NightForTheFight.org.  

2. The Butterfly Walk is another annual event in which families, friends and coworkers can come together to celebrate survivors and remember those for whom a cure did not come soon enough. In addition to the walk, participants can join in family activities to help raise funds for CFK. 

3. The 100 Mile Challenge is a 30-day fitness campaign where participants are asked to complete 100 miles and raise $100 in the month of September in honor of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Participants can take on this challenge alone, create a friends and family team, or participate with their company in the Corporate Competition. The winning Corporate Competition team receives a research grant named in their company’s honor. 

4. The Celebration of Champions is an annual dinner and auction held to honor all children who have battled childhood cancer. The event includes both a silent and live auction, raffles, wine and bourbon pulls, a tribute to Champions, an After Party Concert and entertainment from Local 12’s Bob Herzog.

CancerFree KIDS’ mission is especially personal to Mary Piening. Her grandson, Alex, was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia at just 22 months old. Mary and her family wanted to get involved with this incredible organization and its fundraising events. 

“It warms our hearts to see so many young high school students working together to help raise funds at the Night for the Fight,” Mary smiles. “The Celebration of Champions dinner and auction event in which the community comes together to honor these brave children is such an inspirational evening. One of our favorite events is the annual Butterfly Walk. In addition to the walk and 5K, there are so many fun activities and great food for everyone to enjoy!”

“We pride ourselves on creating the very best participant experience for these events, and I think our supporters recognize that and it motivates them to fundraise,” Cari says.

Plans for the Future

CancerFree KIDS has some exciting plans on the horizon. The organization was recently awarded $1.2 million in grants that will allow them to then bestow 21 other grants between Cincinnati Children’s and Nationwide Children’s—18 New Idea Awards (their traditionally awarded research grant) and three new Accelerator Awards.

“This will expedite the research and avoid lost time between initial proof-of-concept data discovery and then acquiring additional funding,” Cari explains.

With CancerFree KIDS’ help, the evolution of science has never been faster and the capabilities of new technologies are more promising than ever. “Our funding will continue to allow scientists to leverage these technologies and discover new therapies that will be transformational to how we treat pediatric cancer,” Cari says. 

And the team can’t wait to see what the future holds in the fight against cancer. “Everyone at CancerFree KIDS truly cares about our mission and comes to work knowing that we are making a difference,” Cari continues. “Everyone has a wonderful attitude and cares about each person’s success … the people are what makes CancerFree KIDS special.”

CancerFree KIDS

420 W. Loveland Ave, Loveland 

513.575.5437 | CancerFreeKIDS.org

"Everyone at CancerFree KIDS truly cares about our mission and comes to work knowing that we are making a difference … the people are what makes CancerFree KIDS special."- Cari Speed

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