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CFO Stories

Farewell to The Ellis Fund

As the fund closes, founder Karen Catt reflects on 14 years of support for pediatric cancer patients.

January 21, 2022

Young boy’s healing spirit continues through related foundation

The life of Ellis Beam shows that legacies and love aren’t necessarily limited to lifetimes. Even though the little boy lived less than three years, his presence led to the support of hundreds of others through The Ellis Fund.

After 14 years of existence, the fund — which has provided up to $1,000 per year for non-medical expenses for families with a child diagnosed with cancer — will close in the coming weeks as its founder relocates to another part of the country.

The transition concludes a story that has resulted in more than $189,000 in support for local families, given one need at a time — and it all goes back to Ellis’s life, and his family’s experience with the hardship and pain of pediatric cancer.

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A portrait of Ellis Beam, the young boy who inspired the creation of The Ellis Fund.

“You have no clue what is going on in the outside world,” says Karen Catt, Ellis’ mother and the fund’s founder, of the upheaval such a diagnosis can bring to families.

Ellis was diagnosed with cancer shortly after his birth in 1992, resulting in numerous relocations, job changes and life adjustments for his parents to support his treatment. In addition to the emotional distress, his treatment brought along significant financial implications, including many expenses that simply weren’t covered by insurance. “That’s how we knew what people go through,” says Catt.

Ellis died in 1994. The family went through several additional life shifts, including divorce and Catt’s relocation to the Springfield area. There, the tragedy in her own life put Catt in a position to empathize with a family she knew whose child also was undergoing cancer treatment. She wanted to do something to help, so she offered to contribute to the family’s expenses.

“I remember feeling like an angel had dropped from the sky and took that weight off of my shoulders.”

Word soon got around, and others inquired about similar assistance. Catt began thinking about a more streamlined and significant way that she could contribute to families’ bills. Ultimately, that effort led her to the Community Foundation of the Ozarks. In 2008, Catt worked with the CFO to establish The Ellis Fund as a field-of-interest fund, which allows donors with specific charitable interests to support focused grantmaking.

“I wanted to be able to go to work and help pay these families’ bills,” she says. “I was scared to do it because I knew a number of the children would die. But I couldn’t not help the parents. It has turned out to be very healing.”

Over the following years, Catt and her husband Larry, along with co-leaders Dr. Robert Carolla and Dr. Robin Talley, led the fund’s development and served as primary contributors. The fund has fulfilled more than 430 grant requests in the years since its inception, leading to stories with deep meaning in different ways.

Catt shares of the children served through the fund; of those who recovered and worked towards dreams for the future, as well as beauty that comes from all lives, even ones cut too short.

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In 2018, founder Karen Catt hosted a celebration of The Ellis Fund’s 10th anniversary with families supported by the fund.

And while all children serve as a testament to the fund’s value, one in particular will help keep its mission moving forward: Paisley Collins, a Rogersville child who was supported by The Ellis Fund during her battle with cancer. Sarah Collins, Paisley’s mother, shares the moment during her daughter’s cancer journey when they were grateful to receive help.

“I remember feeling like an angel had dropped from the sky and took that weight off of my shoulders,” says Collins of receiving support from the fund.

Paisley Collins died eight months after her diagnosis. She was 2. Their tragedy led Collins and her husband, Tyson, to create the Paisley Collins Memorial Foundation with the CFO in 2016 to help families experiencing similar hardship.

“Tyson and I knew we had two options, and that was to go up or go down and we chose to go up,” says Collins. “We knew we had to keep Paisley’s legacy alive and we wanted to do that by helping families who are in our same situation, just the way The Ellis Fund had helped us.”

The field-of-interest fund will continue supporting families with funding for non-medical expenses, creating its own legacy while carrying on the work done in memory of Ellis.

“I’m not worried that families won’t be served,” says Catt. “I trust the Community Foundation and the Paisley Collins fund to help families in Springfield, even ones I haven’t met.”

Looking back at this chapter, Catt speaks to how helping others has brought peace to her own life.

“I still think of it as Ellis’ spirit helping the other children help their parents,” she says. “When you help everyone else, it heals.”

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