Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation (TBCF), headquartered in Santa Barbara, has served families of children with cancer for nearly 20 years. While roughly half the families the tri-county nonprofit serves live in Ventura County, its presence in Ventura County has remained elusive.

Therefore, the formation of a Ventura County Advisory Board (VCAB) is underway to assist the public’s awareness of the TBCF’s mission, and provide guidance on how to best serve families in Ventura County.

Led by Rich Schuette, Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation’s former board chair and Camarillo native, VCAB will help to connect businesses, volunteers, clubs and schools to TBCF’s mission of supporting families of children battling cancer.

From TBCF’s Youth Philanthropy program, which mentors youth in volunteerism and small fundraising programs, to full-scale corporate volunteer days when staff teams participate in large-scale projects to support programs, TBCF is able to engage with the Ventura County community however best aligns with prospective supporters.

Currently, VCAB consists of Heather Binda, Summaer Cole, Melanie Ely, John Fraser, Melinda Gudino, Lisa Macias, Susie Perry, Rich Schuette, Lisa Smithson and Bonny Trejos. All current board members either live or work in Ventura County, and offer unique perspectives to the organization.

“I’ve been volunteering with TBCF for years through their Project Holiday program,” said Summaer Cole. “They truly care about the families they serve, and work alongside other charities in the county to ensure the family receives all the help they can get. It’s my true honor to serve this wonderful organization.”

VCAB seeks to expand its numbers and started considering new board applications on Feb. 1. To be considered, interested applicants must live in Ventura County. Email inquiries to Brittany Avila Wazny at Brittany@TeddyBearCancerFoundation.org.

TBCF’s mission provides financial, emotional and educational support to families of children with pediatric cancer living in the tri-counties. Through collaboration with Ventura County Medical Center, local doctors and nurses, and local pediatric oncology social workers, TBCF can step in and alleviate the immediate financial burden placed on families during the time of initial diagnosis.

“When a child is newly diagnosed it’s a time of intense anxiety and stress,” said Gisselle Madrigal, TBCF family resource manager. “Our first commitment is to remove some of the financial burden from parents, so they won’t need to choose between being at work or being with their ill child.”

Families may apply for $5,000 in immediate financial aid to be applied toward rent/mortgage, auto expenses, utility bills, medications, home care services, food, child care or hotel accommodations.

Moreover, if it is determined the child is in need of a bone marrow transplant, an additional $2,500 may be requested, and if a child relapses, an additional $2,500 is available. In the most tragic cases, another $2,500 can be used to cover the cost of funeral arrangements.

In addition to direct financial aid, TBCF offers emotional support for the entire family, not just the child in treatment. Family and peer counseling, and support programs are offered in both Ventura and Santa Barbara counties through collaborative partnerships with Ventura County Medical Center and Hospice Santa Barbara.

In an effort to retain some joy and normalcy, TBCF’s Project Holiday program provides care packages during major holidays and birthdays. Additionally, through the Care for the Caregiver program, TBCF provides pampering to parents on Mother’s and Father’s Days.

TBCF was grateful to founder and Ojai resident Nikki Katz and her friends in Ventura County who sponsored 28 families who received Christmas trees, gifts for each child in the house, stockings and all the trimmings during the 2021 holiday season.

Additionally, Susie Perry, Summaer Cole and Ventura County Fire and Police departments stepped up to provide gifts and meaningful experiences and resources to local Ventura families over the holidays.

Since its founding in 2002 Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation has provided some $2,000,000 in financial aid to families battling cancer and continues to increase funding and services as the need grows.

During the early days of the pandemic, TBCF served a record number of families, seamlessly moved the emotional support programs online, and increased available financial aid due the number of families directly affected by loss of work and food insecurity.

In 2020 TBCF provided $37,500 in grocery gift cards to families of children in treatment, and in 2021 TBCF provided more than $30,000 in grocery and gas gift cards during the holidays.These gift cards were in addition to the direct financial aid described above.

More about Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation’s mission can be found at TeddyBearCancerFoundation.org or by calling 805-962-7466.