Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation celebrates anniversary with Golden Gala
MOXI, The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation was filled with celebration Friday evening as the Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation held its Golden Gala to mark 20 years serving families across Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Luis Obispo counties.
The foundation, which was started in 2002 by Nikki Katz, provides financial, educational and emotional support to the families of children undergoing treatment for cancer.
The over 500 attendees of the Oct. 7 event in Santa Barbara were treated to a rooftop dance floor, magic acts, appetizers, raffles and drinks sponsored by Flying Embers, Validation Ale, Black Market Spirits, and wineries including Melville, Sunstone and Josh Cellars.
Additionally, event goers were able to partake in a silent auction to benefit the organization that featured a variety of donated prizes including vacation getaways, jewelry, a gold Gucci hat valued at over $600 and lunch with Santa Barbara Mayor Randy Rowse.
While the Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation has delivered $2.5 million in direct financial assistance to thousands of families dealing with childhood cancer over its 20 years of services, members of the organization can still recount individual cases that have stuck with them over the years.
One such case was recounted to the News-Press by Donna Barranco Fisher, a longtime volunteer with the foundation. She was honored at a VIP dinner prior to the general celebration.
The case cited by Ms. Fisher revolved around a family from Ventura whose child was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Both of the child’s parents lost their jobs, and the family was forced to live out of their car for a period of time as their child underwent treatment.
“(The family) ended up in Santa Barbara because one the mother’s sisters had an apartment over by City College, and the whole family lived in the laundry room,” Ms. Fisher recounted. “I remember meeting the family, and they said, ‘You know, he wants to go to school, but he’s dealing with chemotherapy, he’s dealing with what’s called chemo brain,’ which makes it very hard to go to school. So we really beefed up our education program, and I went to his school and represented him, and they created a whole educational program for him so he could still stay as current as possible.”
“And now he’s like 20 years old now and he’s living his life,” she continued. “I remember I ran into him when he was like 17, and he said, ‘You saved my life.’”
Nikki Katz, the founder of the Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation, also touched on a case that has stuck with her over the years, during which a child and their family was forced to celebrate Christmas in the hospital. The organization responded by decorating both the hospital and the family’s home. Sadly, it was the last Christmas the child would experience.
Corey Pahanish, the executive director at the foundation, is intimately familiar with stories such as Ms. Katz’s, as he has spent much of his time at the organization working with families whose children the organization assisted but ultimately “gained their angel wings too early.”
At the event, Mr. Pahanish curated an experience where attendees could view a video that commemorated these children, and he expressed to the News-Press how impactful his experiences have been.
“It feels like a very sacred connection that I have with those families,” Mr. Pahanish said. “You’re spending time with people who have arguably felt the most excruciatingly painful experience of a human being’s life, and that is to outlive their child. They are bringing you into their story in a very, very vulnerable, intimate way. It’s something that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.”