Sandy Terry understands the pain and confusion of parents who have a seriously ill child. In 1992 Terry's 5-year-old daughter was diagnosed with a rare cancer, rhabdomyosarcoma.
"Most kids didn't live past their teens then. She had three surgeries and a year of chemotherapy," Terry said.
Recognizing the value of the assistance they received during their time of need, Sandy and her husband, Steve, became "lifetime volunteers dedicated to helping families struggling with childhood cancer." Today their daughter Jenna is a healthy 26-year-old.
Jim and Patty Light had volunteered with another organization for several years. In 1999, during a weekend retreat, a host family had car trouble and Jim Light, who owns Safety Lane Automotive, was called on for assistance. This chance encounter was the catalyst for the Lights' involvement in the organization that would eventually be River City Region Leaps of Love.
Terry and Light are co-directors of the charity, which helps families affected by childhood cancer by providing fuel cards, lodging, food, transportation and other areas of and support.
"We help however we can. A lot of time it's a fuel card so they can get to medical appointments in St. Louis. Sometimes it's overnight lodging if they have early morning test at Children's Hospital or Cardinal Glennon. If they have a Trac Phone and they need minutes, we try to provide that. You can't be transporting a sick child back and forth to St. Louis without a working phone."
"We are a good team as co-directors. Patty's heart is so warm and loving. I (Sandy) have had a child on treatment. I know what these mommies are going through. Sometimes it's just a matter of listening. Right now especially the needs are so great to help them get through the holiday."
"Material things make a difference. We provided one family with a washing machine so they could wash linens and clothes. Another time we had a very poor family who didn't own a refrigerator. The hospital wouldn't discharge the child until they had a refrigerator to keep the medicine cold. So we bought a refrigerator. That child later died and we paid the funeral home so her ashes could be released to her mother. When the neighbors raised funds to help the mother she saw to it that some of that money was returned to Leaps of Love."
"Our focus is the family. We organize annual Hannibal weekend retreats in April and October for eight to 10 families who have a child on treatment. We offer the ‘Share Your Love Program' during Christmas to help through the holidays and our ‘Back To School Program' offers assistance with the expenses of preparing children to go back to school. Above all, we are available on a daily basis to help meet immediate needs, be it fuel, lodging, medical needs and more."
"Family retreats are our favorite event. Families check in on Friday night and on Saturday morning they are greeted by Hannibal's Tom and Becky. They go for a trolley ride, tour the museums and the caves, ride the Mark Twain Riverboat and enjoy a picnic. By Saturday night they are more relaxed and know their kids are safe with us. That's when we treat them to a night out while volunteers and an oncology nurse care for the children."
"There are no paid positions. Leaps of Love is staffed by volunteers and we are proud to say that. We have expenses just like everyone else. We have to buy paper for the photo copy machine, but the machine was donated to us. We have to buy postage and supplies, but you'd be surprised how far we can stretch a dollar. We strive to be good stewards of donations and 98 percent of donations go directly to support the families. Above all, we thank God for the opportunity to serve others; we are blessed."
"Our funds stay local. In September 2009 we decided that the money that's raised in this area needs to stay local. Other organizations are doing perfectly fine and they are helping as many families as they can. Here when people give donations to Hannibal they need to know that the money helps people within a 100-mile radius."
"The whole family has cancer. When you have a child on treatment, you just can't forget the siblings and their needs. We concentrate on the family as a whole."
"Children are so resilient. Their innocence is golden and they are fighters. Jenna was in dance when she got cancer, and she kept dancing through her treatment. She was in recitals where she didn't have any hair at all and I'd Scotch tape the bows to her bald head so she could look like the other children. The wonderful thing about children is they are so resilient. Their innocence is golden and they are fighters."
Patty Light, left, and Sandy Terry were interviewed by Staff Writer Sandi Terford and photographed by Photo Editor Phil Carlson.