In 2017, a group of dedicated people came together with a shared passion to do more.
An inspiring team who had been involved with the childhood cancer community for many years, they knew all too well the gaps in support that desperately needed to be filled. They had served as volunteers in recreation programs, worked in pediatric medicine, and led childhood cancer recreation programs - and all passionately agreed that families navigating childhood cancer and blood disorders deserved more.
While working in childhood cancer recreation, WCK Executive Director Shannon Hartwig found herself at a loss when she tried to point families to further support.
“Parents would come up to me at the end of our week together and say ‘what else?’ I was often left struggling to come up with resources,” says Hartwig. “We just knew there was more that could be done.”
For both Hartwig and fellow WCK founder Colin Worth, it was vitally important to listen to families and respond to their needs. Before laying the groundwork for what was to become West Coast Kids Cancer Foundation, Hartwig and Worth gathered members of the cancer community - doctors, nurses, parents, and young adults with lived experience of cancer - and asked them for their input.
“We stood at the front of the room and asked ‘What feels like support for you? What do you wish were available?’” says Worth, a retired RCMP officer. “From that we came up with a list of things people wanted. And we said that’s where we are going to drive this organization, by providing services in those gaps.”
The first cheque WCK wrote was to get coffee and laundry detergent for parents at the hospital, because that is what they said they needed. “And from there we just kept asking families ‘What’s next? What do you need?’” Hartwig says.
The WCK founding members were also dedicated to working in collaboration with other organizations that already existed.
“Working together with other cancer support organizations is so important, because it’s not fair to the families to do anything other than that,” says Hartwig.
Out of these conversations and collaborations came WCK’s first programs: City Camp, a day camp providing summer magic, fun, and memories to kids while allowing them to attend medical appointments and sleep in their own bed; and Smoothie Sundays, a chance for kids and parents to have fresh, nourishing, made-to-order smoothies right in the family lounge at BC Children’s Hospital.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit WCK listened once again. Services quickly pivoted to creating safe, virtual spaces for kids to stay connected, and providing food support for parents as take out options dwindled and visitors could no longer drop off care packages. After hearing the impact of these programs from parents and families, many of these immediate and rapid response services are now here to stay.
Today, WCK continues to grow, evolve, and respond as we build a strong and supportive community for kids and families experiencing childhood cancer and blood disorders. Alongside our established Connection and Food Support programs we have also added Mental Health support for caregivers and young adults, which was developed with lengthy consultation and collaboration with members of the oncology community.
“What started as a dream, and a shared idea amongst dedicated volunteers, has now become our foundation,” says Mina Bullard, a founding member of WCK.
We are so grateful to the many supporters, volunteers, and families who have shown up to make the WCK dream a reality and guide us along our journey. We look forward to many more years of doing more for families, filling the gaps, and listening every step of the way.