Lucy's KidCorps: Healing through Helping

What if our poorest, most disenfranchised children were empowered by being considered heroes instead of victims?

Photo of Beecher Grogan
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Founding Story: Share a story about a key experience or spark that helps the network understand why this project got started or a story about how you became inspired about the potential for this project to succeed.

Our youth activism programs got started when the bereaved sister and friends of our founder, Lucy Grogan, gathered together in 2010 to organize a fundraising event for children with cancer through Lucy's Love Bus. We witnessed the tremendous level of empowerment and healing that resulted from working together to help others, and wondered if those life-changing benefits would also be experienced by children who have suffered other life challenges including poverty, abuse, discrimination, and family trauma.

Which categories describe you? (the answer will not be public)

  • White (for example: German, Irish, English, Italian, Polish, French, Caucasian)

Website

www.LucysLoveBus.org

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [State]

  • Massachusetts

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [City]

Boston

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [State]

  • Massachusetts

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [City]

Our school-based programs are available in Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

We believe that children who are suffering are empowered when they get involved in helping other children whose life circumstances are even more challenging than their own. The problem is that children have few opportunities to make a real impact on social issues that are relevant to them. When we enlist the support of underserved children in the work we do with childhood cancer patients, we empower both populations in a deep and lasting way. Participating children learn that even though they are young, they can still make a big difference.

Our founder, Lucy Grogan, was 12-years-old when she launched her vision of delivering comfort to children with cancer. In her fourth year of treatment for Acute Myeloid Leukemia, Lucy looked around from her hospital bed in Boston and asked, "Mama, if we're in Chinatown, why is no one receiving acupuncture?" Available to her thanks to the support of her community, acupuncture was one of the only therapies that helped Lucy cope with her pain and nausea. She couldn't believe it was not available to children in the beds around her to help them manage the side effects of cancer treatment, as she learned it was not covered by insurance. Lucy said that when she was "done with cancer," she would make sure that all other children with cancer had access to the same integrative therapies that were so profoundly helpful to her during her treatment. Just six short months after founding Lucy's Love Bus (LLB) from her hospital bed, Lucy passed away from complications resulting from a bone marrow transplant.

Lucy's story of turning her own misfortune into a powerful force for good resonates with children and inspires them to think about their own suffering and how they might help create change in order to heal their own spirits. By getting involved and making a lasting impact through a child-focused charity, children tap into skills, creativity and passion that exist in all of us, but have not yet been awoken or accessed.

When we visit schools, we do a large group presentation including a short video, a children's book about childhood cancer called "A Lion Inside" that was written by our Executive Director, discuss facts about childhood cancer, and introduce the concept of activism by talking about real-life activists. We pair each participating school with a child who is undergoing cancer treatment (known as a "Butterfly Buddy") so that children can put a face and a name to childhood cancer. Children learn about their Butterfly Buddy's type of cancer, the side effects of treatment, their interests, and the integrative therapies their Butterfly Buddy has requested to relieve their symptoms. After the large group presentation we visit each classroom so that children can share their own family's cancer stories, ask questions, and brainstorm ways in which they can raise funds to sponsor their Butterfly Buddy.  

Children are encouraged to send pictures and cards of encouragement to their Butterfly Buddy, which is a wonderful exercise in both empathy and the act of extending care and compassion without expecting anything in return. We also talk to children about what they can do about the inequity in funding for childhood cancer research (only 3.8% of the federal cancer budget is allocated to childhood cancers) and invite them to launch a persuasive letter writing campaign to Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the National Institute of Health. 

When the children have completed their work, we go back for another visit to the school so that we can celebrate the success of the children, and give them an opportunity to present their key learning and share feedback about their experience. During this visit our Executive Director shares Lucy's 3 "Secrets of Life", which are:
1. Who we are at our core is who we will always be. The sooner we truly love and embrace our own uniqueness, the happier we will be;
2. We can choose how we respond in every moment- and these choices we make will have a lasting impact on our lives; and
3. The best way to heal is to shine's one light upon others who are suffering. When we help others, we heal ourselves. 

We have run our Lucy's Kid Corps™ program for over 3,000 children to date and have some very exciting partnerships under discussion for the fall, including work with a group of 20 autistic elementary school students in Milton, MA and a new program we plan to launch with the students at Boston International High School. 

Is your model focused on any of the following traditionally underserved communities?

  • Communities of color
  • Children who are differently abled
  • Low-income communities

Does your model work within any of the following sectors?

  • Community Development and Empowerment
  • Education

Year Founded

2006

Project Stage

  • Growth (the pilot has already launched and is starting to expand)

Example: Walk the network through a specific example of what happens when a person or group engages with your solution.

The founding members of Lucy's KidCorps™ were friends of Lucy's, who were all from relatively stable, white, middle-class families. Lucy's death was the only trauma they had experienced in their lives. We were moved, but not surprised, to see how empowered the children became through the work they did with Lucy's Love Bus. We never realized the full empowerment potential of our work until years later when we went for a wrap up visit with a very diverse group of 4th graders. We went into the cafeteria to set up, unaware that our 4th grade partners were having lunch. When we walked in, the children screamed and cheered and swarmed around us. I thought, "This REALLY works. These children feel like heroes and are ready to take on the world!"

Impact: What was the impact of your work last year? Please also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

In 2015 we visited 13 schools in Massachusetts, and worked with 1834 students between the ages of 7 and 16. These children raised a total of $20,309 which provided 20 childhood cancer patients with a full year of integrative therapies such as massage, acupuncture, and yoga. Each school exceeded their goal of raising $1000 in honor of their Butterfly Buddy, with an average amount raised of $1562. Each school designed their own fundraising events, which included change drives, a fashion show, bake sales, and an art show. From one of our students: "It is incredible how you turned a tragedy into a way to give back to others. Lucy was SO insightful and the life lessons that you shared with us were truly amazing. What you shared with us is truly the values and lessons of life. It was very moving and inspiring. You are one of my biggest role models. Thank You SO MUCH!
(P.S: How can I help?)"

Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Annual Budget

  • $250k - $500k

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is your solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

The cost to run this program is offset by the fundraising the children do for the childhood cancer patients we serve. We will scale the program throughout New England by leveraging web-based platforms that will allow us to have a far greater reach. Over the next five years, our KidCorps™ program will be running throughout New England, with healthy children in each state supporting 25% of their LLB peers who are coping with childhood cancer.

Unique Value Proposition: How else is this problem being addressed? Are there other organizations working in the same field, and how does your project differ from these other approaches?

There are various organizations tackling different aspects of our work, but nothing includes every facet. One organization teaches children empathy in order to stop bullying. We teach empathy to inspire children to become activists and philanthropists. There are organizations that raise money for children with cancer, but none of the approaches include healthy children in the process and allow the sick child to become a part of a support community. Lucy's KidCorps™ is growing a powerful community of emerging change makers, who are eager, determined, and empowered to make a difference.

Reflect on the Field and its Future: Stepping outside of your project, what do you see as the most important or promising shifts that can advance children’s wellbeing?

Today's growing movement to build empathy in children is very exciting to us, as we believe that empathy inspires children to action, which in turn shows children a glimpse of their own potential as change makers in their own lives and the world at large. We believe that the most daunting barriers to children's emotional wellbeing is the sense of helplessness and damaged self-esteem that can accompany trauma. When our most vulnerable children are empowered by helping others, the confidence and joy found in that space often leads to remarkable strides in their own emotional growth and healing.

Source: How did you hear about the Children’s Wellbeing Challenge? (the answer will not be public)

  • Email

Referral: If you discovered the Challenge thanks to an organization or person other than Ashoka, who was it? (the answer will not be public)

Robert Wood Johnson

Attachments (1)

ALionInside.pdf

This is a children's book that was written by our Executive Director, detailing her daughter's spirited journey through cancer. We share this book during our Lucy's KidCorps™ school visits.

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Photo of Momi
Team

Hi Beecher! - Thanks so much for sharing your project with the Children's Wellbeing Initiative. I love that this project emphasizes that the interaction between the students and children with cancer is mutually beneficial, it prevents the illusion of the students being the saviors. 

A few thoughts to keep in mind as you continue to share your project here and elsewhere: Are you partnerships with schools renewed? Or are they just a onetime interaction? It would be really cool to show that the inspiration the students felt after their first year of participation could translate into an initiative to continue their relationship with the program. 

Thanks again for sharing!