Charity Spotlight: Runway to Hope

Today, we continue our Advent Charity Spotlight Series. This week we interviewed Laura Lockner, Executive Director of Runway for Hope.

FaithSocial Team: What is your charity’s mission?

Runway to Hope’s mission is to support families, primarily in Central Florida, fighting pediatric cancer, while seeking a cure.

FaithSocial Team: Who is someone that has been really impacted by your charity?

One of the best examples of a constituent who has been positively impacted by our organization is a little girl named Carina and her family. She was diagnosed at seven months old with infantile fibrosarcoma, which is a type of soft tissue sarcoma. Carina’s growth was a large, vascular right-sided neck mass extending to the face. Within seven days of her first surgery to attempt to remove the mass, the tumor rapidly progressed into her mouth. Her medical team performed another surgery which left Carina breathing through a tracheostomy. The tumor continued to grow into the base of her skull, jaw and spine. There were limited treatment options for Carina, due to her tumor’s resistance to chemotherapy. Her medical team found a drug that might work and Carina became the first pediatric patient in the world to receive an experimental drug that led to FDA designation as a breakthrough therapy. Runway to Hope provides funding to the Interventional Radiology program at Nemours Children’s Hospital, which was directly involved in Carina’s medical care. Interventional Radiology serves cancer patients directly by utilizing rare and advanced imaging technologies for localized and minimally invasive treatments. The machinery Runway to Hope purchased for the Interventional Radiology department equipped Carina’s medical team to administer this groundbreaking drug into her tumor with a minimally invasive option. Tumors can dramatically shrink in size in response to drugs that target the tumor’s genetic weakness. However, the cancer can still return or mutate and come back. While this drug gave her what her parents call “a happy baby year” she unfortunately passed away in March of 2017. This treatment gave them another year with their sweet girl that was not infused with chemotherapy or radiation. Runway to Hope is honored to continue fundraising to provide innovative treatment options in Central Florida to continue helping more families just like Carina’s.

FaithSocial Team: What’s the biggest challenge that your organization faces on a day-to-day basis?

In our current climate, the biggest challenge our organization faces is fundraising. Not being able to host in person events has resulted in a decrease in funding. Ensuring that our constituents have been taken care of during this pandemic has also been very important, while trying to follow COVID-19 safety precautions and procedures.

FaithSocial Team: What is your vision for the next 3-5 years?

Runway to Hope needs a new home. We have been fortunate to start and flourish in a shared office space that has been donated for ten years. We have avoided paying rent, but have been faced with limited parking in downtown Orlando, excessive parking fees, and limited space for our children & families to visit. A new home will allow us to reallocate these dollars. Prior to COVID-19, we were prepared to purchase a space, however we will need funding to ensure sustainability. Cancer care goes beyond the walls of doctors’ offices and hospitals. With a new home, Runway to Hope will create a Counseling and Family Resource Center and function as a support hub for the pediatric cancer community. Cancer warriors and their families will be able to seek counseling services, find referrals, join support groups, have access to technology they might not otherwise have, and ultimately build a community with children and their families battling pediatric cancer from different treatment centers across Central Florida. In addition to funding, we will also need volunteers, partnerships, and supply donations to make this a reality. As our team expands and the vision grows, a new home will allow us to comfortably carry out our plans and better serve our families.

FaithSocial Team: How has your charity had to pivot since COVID-19?

We had to cancel our largest fundraiser of the year in May of 2020 due to COVID-19, resulting in a loss of over 88% of our annual income. Our fundraising platforms have had to completely pivot to virtual. We were able to host a virtual auction as well as a virtual 5k race which helped us raise much needed funds for our family assistance program. This is the first time we have had to execute completely virtual events and we are excited to have profited from these avenues for this year. Additionally, in January of 2020, Runway to Hope continued to foster community partnerships by becoming an agency of Second Harvest Food Bank. Runway to Hope is able to purchase $11 worth of food for $1. The reallocation of funds spent on grocery store gift cards has allowed for more direct financial assistance to be granted, as well as, food to be delivered on the doorsteps of the families to fill their fridges and pantries for approximately 1-2 weeks. This has been particularly critical since so many of our constituents were worried about grocery shopping due to COVID-19 concerns.  

FaithSocial Team: What is something your charity does that most people don’t know about?

Runway to Hope’s Family Assistance Program was started in 2014 and as of May 31st, 2020 over 450 families have been helped with direct financial support. Over $570,000 have been granted back to families in our community fighting this insidious disease. When a child is diagnosed with cancer, the entire family suffers. Approximately 1 in 3 families face work disruptions and oftentimes one parent has to quit their job to care for their sick child, dramatically reducing the family’s income by as much as 40% of the annual household income. According to the National Children’s Cancer Society, 1 in 5 children who receive a new diagnosis of childhood cancer are already living in poverty prior to diagnosis. Medical expenses and other bills mount quickly; the stress can overwhelm parents and children alike. With support from our community, Runway to Hope can continue to provide the necessary assistance for our brave kiddos and their families. Our program is growing rapidly and we are assisting as many families as we can.

FaithSocial Team: What are ways people can get involved with your charity? (Are there any volunteer opportunities, ways to give, etc.?)

Become a monthly donor today. Just $5 can make a difference.

To learn more about Runway to Hope please visit Mountain Resort Ministries please visit www.runwaytohope.org.