May your choices reflect your HOPES not your FEARS." ~Nelson Mandela
Here's my choice in 2016: I'm quitting my day job and devoting my full time and energy, as the Chief Hope Officer (our version of CEO), to MaxLove Project and families everywhere fighting childhood cancer.
I could talk about the fear I have about this choice (let's just say that my husband's not in the middle of getting his 2nd PhD for the money). Rather, I want to tell you about the hope this choice springs out of.
Max and I started Max's Love Project (our original name) in the late fall of 2011. He had just been diagnosed with brain cancer at the end of the summer and was in the midst of chemotherapy and intensive post-surgery rehabilitation therapies. As Max and I spent our days in treatment and therapies, we wanted to pay forward the love shown us by our local community. So, we started by giving away something that helped Max tremendously in those early days: Cloud b's Twilight Turtle. This little therapeutic sleep aid made a huge difference for us and we knew it would make a difference for other families as well. We hoped, as an added bonus, that Max would learn about the powerful, healing aspects of giving as well.
Just about a year later in 2012, in the midst of launching our cause brand MaxLove Brand, we saw the power and the deep potential in our expanding vision. Max was thriving against the odds and so many other SuperKids who followed a similar integrative protocol were thriving as well. We knew we had to share these integrative resources with as many childhood cancer families as we could. So, we changed our name to "MaxLove Project" to signify not Max's love, but rather "MAXimum love, for all kids fighting against the odds, working to thrive in the face of life-threatening challenges.
Shortly after Max was diagnosed back in 2011, my colleagues at Saddleback College (where I am Director of Student Life) gave me a truly precious gift: their hard earned time in the form of a year off of work. This allowed me to be with Max through the rigors of treatment and therapy. Part of our intention in starting the nonprofit, as mentioned previously, was to pay forward this sort of amazing support (and there were so many other examples of this kind of love shown to us). Too many families are not afforded such incredible benefits, and we were in a position to do our part to extend our community's kindness and love to others in need. As I returned to my amazing students and supportive colleagues in the fall of 2012, I knew I couldn't just let MaxLove Project wind down. It had grown beyond our little turtle give-aways into something that was changing the ways families faced childhood cancer treatment and survivorship. So, as a family, we learned to juggle my full-time work at the college with Max's treatment and therapies, the normal needs of Max's little sister, Maesie, and the growing work of MaxLove Project. Through late nights and weekends, MaxLove continued to grow and grow.
We forged ahead with our Fierce Foods Academy cooking classes, online support group, free personalized dietitian consultations for families, educational materials and resources, research funding via the St. Baldrick's Foundation, our "Love + Light Be Super Kit" (with friends Cloud b, Lily's Sweets, Goochie Goo Garbs, The Honest Company, and much more). By 2014 MaxLove Project got a super-boost with the support of Arroyo Elementary School, Jimmy Kimmel Live, and Rainbow Loom. We Loomed Against Cancer with 118 Learning Express Toys locations and our friends at Rainbow Loom, raising well over $90,000 for research and support programs.
By early 2015 we grew to become a robust grassroots nonprofit organization, supporting two part-time staff members and a new office that serves as a center of social support and resources for SuperFamilies. We partnered with Cloud b and The Honest Company to serve thousands of hospitalized kids in five countries and well as local school children. In 2015, MaxLove Project:
- Served over 9,000 SuperKids in five countries and 1800 school children in our local area.
- Was awarded "Newcomer of the Year" At the CHOC Children's Hospital Foundation's annual Charley Awards.
- Expanded our Fierce Foods Academy collection of nutrition support and education programs to include our innovative Broth Bank, a partnership with the Electric City Butcher.
- Launched our empowering lifestyle medicine based "Be Super Action Plan" to support families in treatment and beyond.
- Created our SuperDuper SuperKids Thrive Guide therapeutic coloring book through our Camp Make & Believe therapeutic arts program.
- Hosted our first (and wildly successful) fundraising gala, our Farm to Fork dinner at Tanaka Farms.
- Partnered with Southern California Edison, Real Properties Department to engage employees in giving and service.
- Launched Ethan & Choco's Book Club, a library and reading program at CHOC Children's Hospital.
- Grew our "Love + Light Be Super Kit" initiative to serve children across the country.
- Initiated a monthly "Be Super" social support and therapeutic arts event program at CHOC Children's Hospital.
- To top it all off, our partners in hope, Cloud b, launched Super Max the Turtle, a current nominee for Toy of the Year!
So, we are faced with a choice in 2016: do we take MaxLove Project to the next level and help more childhood cancer families and in a deeper and more meaningful way? Or do we simply want to maintain what we have built so far?
I am making this choice from a space of hope. As sad as I will be to leave my amazing students and truly exceptional colleagues at Saddleback College, I know that MaxLove Project is doing groundbreaking work, it needs to grow, and the only way to do that is for me to give 100% of my time and energy to this cause.
So here's what 2016 has in store: We're initiating the Gold Apron Society, a program with a simple mission -- enlisting chefs and the hospitality industry to build teaching kitchens at pediatric hospitals. We are beginning our plans for an integrative cancer survivorship center that will be based in Santa Ana, California. Our MaxLove Brand will be developed to become an innovative and empowering personal entrepreneurship program, helping families and communities fundraise for their own causes. Ethan & Choco's Book Club will build a beautiful library and reading program at CHOC Children's Hospital. We will also be supporting innovative sleep and lifestyle medicine research in 2016. And we'll continue to support and grow all of our exist programs too!
This is all massive and daunting. But I am determined to act out of hope and not fear. Together, I know we can do this!
MaxLove Project is a beautifully unique organization. And with your help, we can expand its influence in 2016. Make your year-end contribution go the extra mile for kids fighting cancer. With your support we will bring the Thrive Revolution to all SuperKids! Stay Fierce! ~ Audra, Max's Momma