Marking her 10th month as executive director of Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation, Lindsey Guerrero is also celebrating the nonprofit organization’s milestone 10th anniversary of providing financial and emotional support to families of children with cancer.
“My favorite part of this job is hearing the families’ stories and how Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation has been able to help them,” said Guerrero, whose organization assists families living in Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Luis Obispo counties.
Despite a small staff of four — which includes associate director Cynthia Menendez, program director and founder Nikki Katz, and volunteer and program coordinator Becca Solodon — Teddy Bear manages to provide an amazing array of programs and services.
“We are able to make a huge positive impact in the lives of families who have children with cancer,” explained Guerrero, a UC Santa Barbara alumna who worked for Santa Barbara Channelkeepers and the United Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Barbara County before joining Teddy Bear in March.
“My experience has primarily been youth services and my background is a degree in education and teaching credential, so providing services for youth is near and dear to my heart,” said Guerrero, who met her husband, Carlos, when both were working at the Boys & Girls Club.
Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation provides financial support to needy families, including direct financial assistance of up to $5,000. The money has gone toward housing; car-related expenses; utility bills; medications and home care services not covered by insurance; counseling; child care; education support for learning problems that are a common side effect of chemotherapy; critical needs such as groceries, gas and meals at the hospital cafeteria and hotel accommodations for immediate family during an emergency or an unusually extended hospital stay; and as a funeral fund to assist with arrangements.?
The organization also offers a variety of family support groups led by licensed social workers; care for the caretaker events; reading to the children at the hospital; “bear” necessities such as furniture and diapers; and “moments in time” that are special experiences for children, including surprise birthday parties in the hospital, meeting celebrities or fun outings.
“On an emotional level ... cancer is tragic and unfair,” Guerrero said. “It strikes regardless of your socioeconomic background.
“Even though there are a lot of accomplishments being made with the treatment for childhood cancer, the element that families still need is that financial/emotional support. That’s where Teddy Bear fills the gap.”
Guerrero is particularly proud of one financial assistance program.
“We offer payment for tutoring, with a state credentialed teacher,” she said. “Children often fall behind, so we’ve really been ramping that up.
“We also provide neuropsychological testing, which helps to examine how they learn. You know what areas are strengths and weaknesses, and that can be used in conjunction with the schools to help create an individualized educational plan for the student.”
Guerrero also recounts the story of 12-year-old Jasmine, who had chemotherapy when she was very young and suffered hearing loss as a result. Her family could only afford a very low-end hearing aid, but Teddy Bear supporters were able to connect her to a Minnesota specialist who provided her with a device that restored her hearing.
“They covered the flight, all of the appointments needed, all of the expenses during that whole period for the family, and outfitted her with a hearing aid,” Guerrero said.
She shares another story of a little girl with retinoblastoma (causing vision loss) who simply wanted to go to the zoo with her whole family.
“Being able to purchase souvenirs and have a meal at the zoo, this was something the family absolutely could not afford,” Guerrero said. “Being able to grant these wishes and requests is part of our moments in time program. It’s a really nice kind of feel-good thing, catered very specifically to those families.”
Teddy Bear recently received funding to work with professional consultants on a strategic planning process for the first time. The goal, she says, is to put the organization on the road to sustainability.
Guerrero is quick to praise the leadership of board president Jim Bechtel, as well as Katz, Teddy Bear’s founder, who will be stepping away from day-to-day operations early next year.
“She’ll always be our founder,” Guerrero said of Katz. “She’ll always be involved in some capacity as an ambassador of the organization but won’t be working full time anymore.”
And if volunteers want to get involved with Teddy Bear?
“We have a wide variety of volunteer opportunities — both our programs, program events, administrative support, especially event coordination and more,” she said. “Community members can get involved by making a donation directly to the foundation, educating themselves about the work that we do by signing up for mailings and e-newsletters and about childhood cancer in general.”
Click here for more information about Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation, or call 805.962.7466. Click here to make an online donation. Connect with Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation on Facebook. Follow Teddy Bear on Twitter: @TBCF4kids.