At times, charity foundations can be hard to relate to. It’s an unfortunate truth: even after we’ve seen the touching pictures and watched the inspiring but heart-wrenching videos, sometimes the entreaties for us to open up our pockets and donate are far-removed from our own situations and experiences. Especially once you realize that most of the time, there’s a percentage of money spent that doesn’t even go to the cause. That’s where Bob Jones University’s partnership with Let There Be Mom is different.
Let There Be Mom is a nonprofit organization that caters to local families in which a member is combatting a terminal illness. According to their website, they “capture the hopes, dreams, traditions, and life [stories] of [parents] in tangible forms, ensuring that their young children always have a way to get to know them.”
Senior Bradley Shepard, the Bob Jones Community Service Council Director who is in charge of the fundraiser, explained his motivation behind working with Let There Be Mom: “In the past, we’ve been able to work with organizations much bigger than Let There Be Mom, but I think it was really important for us to find a company that is not only locally-based, but something that was more relatable to the student body. … We thought this was an organization that the student body could really get behind. Almost everyone knows someone with a terminal illness.”
Sophomore Alyssa Whaley is one such student who has an experience similar to what Let There Be Mom is devoted to.
When she was eleven years old, her father was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, which is more commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease or ALS. The Mayo Clinic describes the fatal disease as “a progressive neurological disease that destroys nerve cells and causes disability.” Symptoms can range from muscle weakness and problems with coordination, to vocal cord spasms, mild cognitive impairment, and severe shortness of breath. As the disease advances, it weakens the diaphragm: a muscle needed for your lungs to work.
“The disease can kind of range,” Whaley explained. “It’s an incurable disease without any known cause. Dr. Fremont, who Fremont Fitness Center is named after, had ALS as well, and he had it for eighteen years.”
Whaley’s dad, however, had it for eight months.
“He was diagnosed in March of my sixth grade year and he passed away in December, a few days after Christmas. So it’s been eight years now,” she said. “There’s a lot that, as a twelve-year-old when your dad passes away, it’s a very different set of feelings than when you’re older.
“But me and my two siblings got to pick out shirts of my dad that we remember him wearing, that we liked him wearing, and my aunt got it made into a teddy bear for us. And then, Valentine’s Day after my dad passed away, my mom got me a necklace with my dad’s thumbprint on it.”
Invaluable tokens like this are exactly what Let There Be Mom specializes in. Even while Whaley was retelling the story, her hand ghosted over the place where her necklace would be as she described the profound impact organizations like Let There Be Mom can have on the families they serve.
“A lot of times they’ll do photoshoots with the parents and the kids so that the kids have something to remember their parents by after they’re gone, which is incredibly special for the cases in which kids know that they’re going to lose their parent. And, a lot of the time, that’s how it is with terminal illnesses,” she asserted. “So I think the biggest thing is just having that tangible thing to hold on to, and also creating the memories that they can hold on to when the parent does pass away.
“I didn’t know he did this, but [my dad] wrote letters for milestones that we reach and so my high school graduation—five or six years after he passed away—I was up on stage and my mom had part of the letter read while I was up there.” With a reminiscent smile, she added, “I bawled like a baby.”
Whaley goes on to explain how she found Let There Be Mom. “I was looking for a charity for a motivational speech last spring for a class and I stumbled across Let There Be Mom because they’re local. I started reading about what they do and I thought, This…This is me. I see myself in these kids.
“Let There Be Mom’s work gives you something to keep of your parents after they pass away and so having that letter from my dad at my high school graduation—that was mind-blowing. They even played a sound byte of his voice from a home video right before they read the letter. I haven’t heard from my dad, at that point, in five or six years, and even before, while he was sick, he had no voice.”
The (Bruin) Dive
Alyssa’s poignant story became the inspiration for this year’s “Bruin Dive.” On U.Day, children will be challenged to unleash the “superpowers” of the Bruin Bear that they adopt. In a grand spectacle of courage and bravery, children will have their bear plummet from a 50-foot scissor lift in order to receive the highly coveted Certificate of Bravery. There will be no charge for the event. Instead, the University Marketing Association (UMA) will be accepting all donations towards Let There Be Mom.
But the effort is a collective Bob Jones University endeavor. The UMA orchestrated the various events, but they’re not the only ones who can get involved. Students taking the class Principles of Marketing can volunteer as event or sales teams and Professional Selling classes will be seeking business sponsorships. Even the Premedical Association will offer health checks and emergency care should any of the bears’ parachutes fail to deploy. As senior Julie Fenn, president of the UMA, put it, “We have an amazing opportunity to be able to show the love of Christ to these families going through one of the greatest tragedies we could imagine.”
Even BJU’s very own societies will have the chance to sponsor a bear of their own, as long as they collectively raise a minimum of $40 towards Let There Be Mom. The society who raises the most money will receive a generous $100 toward their society fund, which ups the stakes and adds the thrill of competition to the fundraiser. At the beginning of the homecoming soccer game, the sponsored bears will be plunged from a helicopter to a large target on the soccer field and the bear that lands the closest to the bull’s-eye will receive another $100 prize.
One hundred percent of the proceeds from this fundraiser will go towards the organization and towards children who are just like Alyssa Whaley.
“She [Alyssa] talks so favorably about how Let There Be Mom has impacted her life,” events management director Pam Cushman said, when speaking about the cause. “[Let There Be Mom] has a huge impact on families in dealing with the trauma of loss.”
As Homecoming & Family Weekend comes up and Bob Jones University becomes immersed in a flurry of excitement and fun, let us not lose sight of what truly matters. All of us have the opportunity to make an impact on a cause much greater than ourselves. Every prayer matters. Every dollar counts.