A cancer diagnosis for a child is the worst news a parent can ever hear.
The Valerie Fund, located in Maplewood, New Jersey, understands the gravity of these situations and works tirelessly to help families navigate the course of healing.
When Ed and Sue Goldstein’s daughter, Valerie, lost her battle to cancer at the age of 9, in 1976, they were determined that other families facing a cancer diagnosis would have an easier time managing the care necessary for a sick child.
The Goldsteins spent countless hours driving 90 minutes one-way daily for doctors’ appointments, chemotherapy, radiation, and treatments. Their older daughter, Stacy, had to be left with babysitters, and Valerie often got sick on the long ride home. Their work and home life were disrupted, and it took a physical and emotional toll on the family for years.
Upon Valerie’s passing, the couple was driven to improve the quality of life for families of children with serious illnesses. They began fundraising to develop regional outpatient treatment centers at top pediatric hospitals that offer state-of-the-art medical and emotional care in a child-focused environment.
There are currently seven Valerie Fund Centers throughout the New York, New Jersey, and metro Philadelphia areas offering comprehensive support to children and their families.
Executive Director, Barry Kirschner, got involved in the early nineties after being invited by a friend to a fundraiser for the organization.
“I saw an opportunity to help kids, so I joined the board,” says Barry, who stepped into the role of Executive Director in 2003. “Our centers ensure that no New Jersey family has to travel very far for the highest quality of medical, psychological, or emotional care. We provide services like social workers and child life specialists to help kids and families maintain normalcy. We also provide educational programs since kids undergoing treatment may have to be out of school for six to nine months. Hospitals don’t provide these services because they are not covered by insurance.”
The Valerie Fund Centers provide families with financial counseling, integrative medicine programs, and palliative care programs. Beyond cancer diagnoses, they also offer specialized services for children with sickle cell disease and other blood disorders such as ITP and hemophilia.
Emergency funds programs are available for families going through financial crises. Parents may have to take a leave from work to care for a child, which leads to falling behind on rent or car payments.
“We make sure the Valerie fund is doing more services in a variety of ways to reach out to the families,” states Barry. Without the Valerie fund, there would not be a full range of psychological care and social services to provide families what they need beyond medicine. This includes services from dietitians, psychologists, social workers, and integrated medicine specialists.
“All of this needs to be funded philanthropically. Insurance won’t pay it,” Barry says. “We are here to make sure that the need is fulfilled and that the proper comprehensive care is given.”
The programs and services offered help patients and families cope with their anxieties and fears by providing comfort, compassion, and hope.
Upon seeing positive outcomes of kids surviving childhood cancers, the board established a scholarship fund in 2008. “We wanted to let our kids and families know that we still care for them--and their future success--even after they get better. That first year, we awarded 16 scholarships totaling $12,000,” says Barry.
Fast-forward to 2021--the scholarship fund awarded 104 scholarships totaling $406,000. Since a large population of children resides in inner cities, this initiative is highly regarded by board members and donors. “The award amounts ranged from several hundred dollars to $10,000 based on academic achievement, family situations, and community service, says Barry. “This year’s winners are attending a wide range of schools, from Passaic County Community College to Rutgers, and the University of Pennsylvania.” The compassion comes full circle. Those who have experienced the challenges of overcoming cancer have the drive to help others. “We have one client in medical school along with several in nursing school.”
The Valerie Fund’s Camp Happy Times provides 200 kids a free summer sleepaway camp at no cost to the families. It’s a meaningful time when children can bond with others who have gone through similar challenges, and it is open to any child who has or has had cancer. Treatment at a Valerie Fund Center is not a requirement. “These kids get an unbelievable experience,” says Barry. “Climbing walls, pools, lakes, boating, arts and crafts, and all of the usual summer fun.”
“The breadth of what we do is amazing,” says Barry. “Over 5,000 kids and families per year get the full spectrum of care that they need close to home. It’s very heartwarming and fulfilling to see how we can impact kids beyond their illness.”