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A big boost
A big boost

Jul 01 2022

A big boost

Members support organizations close to their heart like Resources for the Blind, Appalachia Service Project and the Children's Cancer Association with $50,000 MDRT Foundation grants.

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To thrive in the face of adversity, there must be difficulty. An infant who cannot see. A family whose house burned down. A child battling cancer. These challenges cannot be overstated. That brings us to thriving and the very personal connections three MDRT members have with organizations that are each receiving $50,000 Global Grants from the MDRT Foundation. Two members received assistance while enduring great hardship themselves, and all their stories show how they were driven to give back through volunteering and philanthropy.

Resources for the Blind

Something struck Linda Wong Choy immediately the first time she brought her 3-year-old daughter, Kara, to school at Resources for the Blind: Other parents, many who come from lesser means than the 15-year MDRT member from Manila, Philippines, were laughing and optimistic about opportunities awaiting their children.

“If they could be happy, I need to know how they could be so happy,” said Choy. “I decided I should be doing more, and I could do more for my child. That is how I got involved in the organization as a parent.”

Kara was born nearly three months premature in 1998 and weighed less than 3 pounds. Then complications during open heart surgery led to visual impairment (called retinopathy of prematurity) and, eventually, to total blindness. Choy was able to benefit from being part of the Resources for the Blind community and contribute to it as well.

When she saw the strides Kara made after receiving occupational, physical and speech therapy outside the school, Choy helped bring those services to Resources for the Blind families by launching an Early Intervention (EI) program. She raised funding to enroll seven children in therapy for six weeks. Another round of fundraising collected 10 times more money and sustained six months of EI for 20 children.

For more than 20 years, Choy has been helping the school expand resources to families with blind children by speaking to a national parent group about her child’s many successes despite being severely disabled. In addition to being blind, Kara, now 23, has slight cerebral palsy and mild autism, yet has thrived and loves to read, play piano, sing, bake and eat her favorite desserts. “They see me being able to help and encourage other parents, just as I was encouraged by the parents before me,” Choy said.

In 2001, Choy helped form Parent Advocates for Visually Impaired Children. The advocacy group today is more than 1,000 members strong, even extending through weekly online meetings to parents and grandparents in Indonesia, Malaysia and Cambodia.

Resources for the Blind will use the MDRT Foundation grant to create and distribute Braille magazines for students across the Philippines, and training for teachers and parents.

ASP builds a new, energy-efficient home for a homeowner free of charge, providing instant equity and helping relieve generational poverty for Central Appalachian families.

“I used to only think about having a better house, a better car and wishing for a comfortable life. It’s a very different journey having a differently-abled child,” Choy said. “I am happy because life is not what we plan it out to be, but how you take it as it comes. And there is power in knowing you’re not alone.”

The Appalachia Service Project

What would cause a 17-year-old kid terrified of picking up a skill saw to embrace being called “Sawman” by the end of the week?

The answer is participating in the Appalachia Service Project (ASP), which repairs and replaces homes for low-income families, veterans, and disabled and elderly people. Teams of high school students, parents and other volunteers travel to the Central Appalachia region in the U.S. to work for a week on a project. Throughout the summer, other teams arrive and pick up where the previous team left off. David R. Wilson, CLU, has worked on more than 20 homes since 1989. That year he brought his 14-year-old daughter to volunteer on the crew. This year, the 24-year MDRT member from Oneonta, Alabama, USA, will have his fourth grandchild participating.

“You see all these kids that go up, it’s not just making them better for a week,” Wilson said of the volunteers. “When they spend a whole week working like they’ve never worked before and experiencing how other people live, it literally changes their lives.”

Each team, typically about five to eight people, is responsible for raising $5,000 to pay for their food and building materials. The work often involves pulling up floors, replacing roofs and bringing various elements of the house up to code.

“You might have a house that’s not worth $5,000, but the part you repair is done like it’s a half-million-dollar home,” Wilson said. “The goal is to make homes safer, warmer and drier.”

Wilson recalls the first year when his team helped Naomi, an 80-year-old woman who lived by herself. They propped up her house, removed a rotted floor and back wall, installed concrete blocks for footings and new floor joists. Last year, his team helped Kate and Casey, a married couple and abuse survivors who struggled to pay their $400 monthly rent and support their teenage son CJ. In addition to fixing their home, Wilson’s group raised $4,000 for the family and got them a car. The family now call Wilson and his wife Daddy David and Momma Donna.

ASP will use the MDRT Foundation grant to build energy-efficient homes for two recipients. The first is Beecher, who served in the Navy during the Vietnam War and then with the Marines in the Philippines. He worked in a mine after his service, became disabled and found himself living in a van with friends before moving into a trailer, which burned down. The second recipient is Tonya, a widow who has lived in a tent and then a trailer without heat and air conditioning since her house burned down in 2018.

Children’s Cancer Association

From visiting children in the hospital to serving 11 years on the board of directors, Jeffrey M. Owens, AIF, has dedicated countless hours since 2000 to the Children’s Cancer Association (CCA). His involvement started after his daughter, Melissa, was diagnosed in 1999 with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The CCA, a fledgling organization at the time, invited Melissa to participate in their “dreamcatcher” program, which whisked Melissa and her mom by limo for pampering at a spa and then treated them to brunch.

“That touched us so deeply at the time, when we were beat up after the chemotherapy and radiation,” said the 32-year MDRT member from Clackamas, Oregon, USA. “To think there was an organization out there that cared was a big deal, and we had to give back. We’ve been involved deeper and deeper ever since.”

The MDRT Foundation grant will support CCA’s JoyRx program, which provides music therapy for children battling cancer. That service, Owens recalled, is what allowed a 16-year-old girl to laugh and sing and be silly with her music therapist just a week after having her leg amputated due to cancer. That therapy also can explain why a 4-year-old girl’s comment to the CCA board about her cancer returning was, “That’s OK; at least going to the hospital is fun.”

“Think about that for a minute,” Owens said. “They are going to fill her full of drugs and needles. It’s the opposite of fun. But the circumstances of the JoyRx program make it fun.”

The CCA and Owens are expanding the program beyond Oregon into Texas and Massachusetts. There also is a goal to build a $25 million endowment in five years to fund JoyRx in hospitals nationwide.

“Every family is going to be touched by cancer. It’s just a matter of when,” said Owens, whose daughter worked for CCA for four years, spoke several times at organization fundraisers and participated in their Chemo Pal program, in which adult volunteers befriend kids during treatment so their parents can run errands or perform other modes of self-maintenance outside the hospital. “This organization provides joy to kids who are sick and thinks about how we can reach more kids and more families in the long term.”


Linda Choy linda_choy@manulife.com.ph

Jeffrey Owens jeff@bpgnetwork.com

David Wilson drwilson@ft.nyl.com