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ESHS graduate helps families battle pediatric cancer

February 23, 2018 – Excelsior Springs High school graduate Jessica Gatlin sees families in the midst of hard times, both emotionally and financially. She’s a full-time student at Baker University, with plans to graduate in May with a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration, but she also currently serves as an intern for Pinky Swear, a non-profit devoted to helping kids with cancer, and their families.

“Parents plan for retirement, a child’s college education, but nobody plans for cancer,” Gatlin explained. “When a child has cancer, the entire family faces an emotional struggle, but also a financial one. The Pinky Swear Foundation provides services to support families battling pediatric cancer in our community with financial assistance for basic needs to help with mortgage, rent, bill payments, transportation and emotional support programs, such as All-Star Weekend getaways and Pinky Swear Pantries, so families can remain close during treatment.”

Pinky Swear supports families’ quality-of-life with financial assistance for basic needs and through experiences that create emotional support, so they can focus on what’s most important: their child batting cancer.

“It was inspired by a pinky swear promise made between a dying 9-year-old boy and his dad, the foundation engages people of all ages, to help grow the community of Keepers of the Pinky Swear,” Gatlin said.

In 2017, in partnership with Children’s Mercy and KU Med, Pinky Swear supported 48 area families in the greater Kansas City area.

As an intern, Gatlin assists with development, events, and the Pinky Swear Kansas City area community advisory council. She is also helping launch All-Star Weekends for local children and their families.

Previously, Gatlin worked in the healthcare industry, including one stint at Children’s Mercy.

“That year was eye-opening to me,” Gatlin explained. “I witnessed the amount of families that have a child in the hospital for very long periods of time.”

She remembered those families during her research to find an intern opportunity for a nonprofit. It was then that she found Pinky Swear. As a mother of two children, she wanted to help families during one of the most difficult times of their lives.

Pinky Swear has a partnership with HyVee. They are working together on Pinky Swear’s biggest community fundraiser: the HyVee Pinky Swear 5K & Fun Run at Arrowhead Stadium, on July 28. Currently, Gatlin is working to connect Pinky Swear to area organizations that wish to sponsor the event, which also includes a festival with vendors.

“It’s a unique event because the participants get to travel inside the stadium on the warning track at field level,” Gatlin said. “It’s all about raising money for these families.”

For Gatlin, the experience to serve in her capacity for Pinky Swear is an opportunity to do what she loves best – helping others.

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“One of my greatest passions is helping others,” she explained. “It is important to me to give back to my community. When I see the ways that Pinky Swear is helping families stay in their homes, keeping the lights and the heat on, food on their tables and gas in their cars to be able to travel to treatment, you can’t help but get involved. It’s a struggle for many families today to make ends meet these days, I can’t imagine having the challenging burden of pediatric cancer on a family, too.”

For more information on Pinky Swear, visit pinkyswear.org.

By Samantha Kilgore • kimeberely@leaderpress.com

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