NJ’s Valerie Fund marks new initiative, landmark event
It's an exciting time for the New Jersey-based Valerie Fund.
The charity was established in 1976 by Ed and Sue Goldstein, following their loss of their daughter, Valerie, to a bout with cancer.
Out of their grief, the Goldsteins wanted to create change and make top-notch medical care more accessible for Garden State residents.
"For outpatient treatment centers in New Jersey, so that every child could be treated within 30 minutes of their home," said Bunny Flanders, Director of Marketing and Communications.
"Our mission is to treat kids with cancer and blood disorders, and to take care of them."
The Valerie Fund now has seven centers, six in New Jersey, which treat 4,000 kids annually. The facilities handle more than 25,000 patient visits each year.
"It's really important to treat the whole child and the whole family," Flanders explained.
Their programs focus on child life, social work, and education. Flanders said the Valerie Fund reached a new record in 2014 with $5.4 million raised.
Joann Spera serves as the Valerie Fund Educational Liaison at Morristown and Overlook Medical Centers. She is charged with helping recovering children stay connected with their schoolwork and daily routines. The students can miss up to a year of class time.
"So, they don't miss a beat and when they can go back to school, they are able to continue with whatever grade level they should be at," Spera explained.
About a year ago at an industry conference, she came across a game-changer that perfectly marries the Valerie Fund's mission with the evolving technology. Spera began the process of procuring and applying VGo Robots for these children forced to miss significant class time.
The robots allow the patients to virtually attend school while controlling it from home via computer, laptop or iPad.
"The robot is in school. It can move around the classroom. It can move around the hallways. It can go to lunch with their friends. It can do everything that a kid can do."
Five of the robots are currently active in schools around New Jersey.
Spera said they are seeing great success with the program, which allows for a full school and social experience, while eliminating much of the isolation children feel during their recovery period.
"All of those things that they missed because they are out of school, they can actually be a part of and participate," she said.
She is hoping to expand the groundbreaking program, which costs roughly $8,000 per robot.
"I can't even put words to describe what a huge difference it makes in the kids lives," Spera said.
On Saturday, June 13, the Valerie Fund hosts its largest annual event in Verona, NJ. The 10th Annual Valerie Fund Walk & Jag Physical Therapy 5K run takes place at Verona Park.
The event, which draws over 600 runners and 1500 walkers, is on pace to reach its goal of $1 million once again. Flanders said they are treating the 10th anniversary as a giant birthday celebration for the walk. She said this event is special because it is all about the children and families of the Valerie Fund.
"It's their way. It's their friends. It's their family. It's the communities they come from, all giving back to the Valerie Fund."