Welcome to Chicago North Shore Moms Local Nonprofit Spotlight, where we highlight and introduce a local nonprofit’s inception and mission! Today we are featuring The Dragonfly Foundation, whose mission is to deliver the best emotional, relational and practical support systems for families affected by pediatric cancer. The Dragonfly Foundation was started in Cincinnati, OH and has since grown to the Chicagoland area with partners like Lurie Children’s! CNSMoms chatted with The Dragonfly Foundation’s Director of Programs and Highland Park mom of two, Jessica Merar, to learn more about this amazing organization’s heart and soul.
Hi Jessica! Please introduce yourself!
Hi! I’m Jessica Merar. I was born in Toronto but grew up the majority of my life in Highland Park where I live now with my husband Jeff and our two girls, ages 4 and 2. I’m honored to be working with The Dragonfly Foundation as the Director of Programs for the Chicago chapter.
Tell us more about The Dragonfly Foundation! How did it get started?
The Dragonfly Foundation was started 10 years ago by Christine Neitzke in Cincinnati. Like most, Christine and her husband Jim never thought their family would be affected by pediatric cancer. Unfortunately, in 2010, their 10-year-old son Matt was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Fortunately, Christine, Jim, Matt and Sam, who was 12 at the time, had the support of family, friends, and the community; many other inpatients/families were not as fortunate. Motivated by the lack emotional support that some of Matt’s fellow pediatric cancer patients experienced, Christine created The Dragonfly Foundation. Today, Matt Neitzke is cancer-free and The Dragonfly Foundation has grown to support thousands and thousands. We are proud to be expanding to the Chicagoland area!
What is the heart and soul of The Dragonfly Foundation?
The fight for excellence in pediatric cancer treatment is important, but no less important is the commitment we must make to support the families that strive for fulfilling and complete lives during and after treatment. Though treatment may end, and illness may be cured or managed, the long-term effects of factors like internal group tension, familial isolation, post-traumatic stress, the anxiety of recurrence, and the emotional, physical and financial toll on the family unit often linger for years, yes years, to come. While the importance of quality healthcare is a common shared value, we must remember to offer families a holistic, uncompromising, fighting chance at well-being, which is our urgent, passionate mission.
You mentioned pediatrics. Who else does The Dragonfly Foundation serve?
The Dragonfly Foundation was created to enhance in-hospital quality-of-life programs and to help address the gap in emotional care and support of pediatric cancer patients and families, ranging in age from birth to age 40.
The services and programs we offer, as well as our ability to register individual patients and families for inpatient and outpatient support, vary by hospital and are limited by available resources. Note: Funds and in-kind donations stay in the region where they were procured, donated or allocated by the donor.
Jessica, how did you personally get involved in this nonprofit?
I have been a Certified Child Life Specialist for over 14 years, offering emotional and psychosocial support to hospitalized patients and their families. In one of my roles at Lurie Children’s, I would connect with organizations that supported our oncology families; one of them being The Dragonfly Foundation. Earlier this year, we discussed the necessity for ‘boots on the ground’ in Chicago in order to spread awareness, raise funds, and connect with local hospital programs in order to make an impact. Fast forward and here I am, leading the charge in Chicago and excited to be doing it.
What’s on the horizon for The Dragonfly Foundation? How is it growing?
Having been a staple in the pediatric cancer community in Cincinnati for over 10 years, we are thrilled to be expanding to the Chicagoland area. Our current goal is to raise funds and awareness in order to support local patients and families. We currently partner with Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and Loyola University Medical Center, with hopes of expanding to all major pediatric oncology facilities in the area. We will be hosting an Adopt a Family opportunity for the upcoming holidays and are honored to be able to support many families battling cancer this season. With our end of year appeal going out soon, we are hopeful that we can raise enough funding to make immediate impacts in the lives of these patients and families. Down the road, we would love to be able to implement all programming in Chicago that is currently in place in Ohio, such as in-person event for families, hair loss support, new diagnosis care bags, and much more. We truly appreciate the support and look forward to growing in the area.
Who would you like to thank for the formation and success of The Dragonfly Foundation?
First and foremost, Christine’s vision to support families in the day-to-day… to offer comfort, strength, and joy..at time of diagnosis, throughout treatment, and beyond. The Dragonfly Foundation wouldn’t be where it is without the teamwork of the entire staff, the board, and our volunteers. Most importantly, none of this would be possible without donors, supporters, local businesses, friends, family…. it takes a village to make a difference!!
How do our readers contribute and/or volunteer their time?
Follow us on Facebook @TheDragonflyFoundationChicago! Follow us on instagram @the_dragonfly_foundation. Reach out at [email protected] to be added to our local newsletter to learn about upcoming fundraisers, events, and impact reports. Let us know if/how you want to get involved! And finally, if you’d like to make a financial contribution, please visit https://dragonfly.org/! Thank you for taking the time to learn more about this amazing nonprofit!