CFO Stories

The Ellis Fund: Grief turns to giving

Donor Karen Catt celebrates beneficiaries in recovery on fund’s 10th anniversary.

Pediatric Cancer Support

“The load becomes lighter” as more families benefit from fund

Karen Catt knows the deep pain of loss and the ongoing ache of grief. In late October 1992, days after passing his two-month physical, she took Ellis, her baby boy, back to the doctor.

“We think he has an earache, and it turns out to be a brain tumor,” she recalls. At that time, the chance of recovery was less than 5 percent. Despite the slim chances and having to deal with 15 specialists, she and her former husband sought treatment for Ellis.

“We knew at that point, everything was going to be research for what they could do for kids in the future.”

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A portrait of Ellis was on display during the event.

That glimmer of hope in a time of sadness — that one day, another child might recover when hers did not — is emblematic of Catt and her mission with The Ellis Fund. Established 10 years ago, the field-of-interest fund provides up to $1,000 per year for non-medical expenses to families with children receiving treatment for cancer.

The idea for the fund was inspired by Catt’s aunt. “She didn’t have kids of her own, but my dad was her favorite nephew,” she says. Unbeknownst to Catt at the time, her aunt helped cover her car and mortgage payments so they could travel to doctors around the country willing to provide treatment for the rare type of pediatric cancer.

In its first 10 years, the fund has helped nearly 70 families through more than $137,000 in grants to cover expenses like house payments, car repairs and hotel stays. With the goal of assisting 50 families per year by 2023, Catt is working to build awareness for The Ellis Fund.

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Karen Catt, right, speaks with McKenna Smith during a celebration for The Ellis Fund's 10-year anniversary. Smith’s family received financial assistance from the fund while she underwent treatment this year.

And she won’t be alone in the effort. Before losing their daughter to cancer, Tyson and Sarah Collins received assistance from The Ellis Fund.

“Honestly, it was a shining light in an extremely dark time,” Sarah says. “After Paisley passed, we knew we wanted to give that same kind of hope.”

They established the Paisley Collins Memorial Foundation in 2016 to provide similar aid, now collaborating with The Ellis Fund to help families maximize financial support.

With each of the families that The Ellis Fund helps, Catt says her work is more healing than she realizes.

“The load becomes lighter,” she says. “The longer that I go, I see so many more kids recover.”

By Aaron Scott · Originally published in the CFO’s Annual Report FY18.

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