Meet Andie McConnell, Director and Co-Founder of the Fairy Godmother Project.
Share a bit about yourself.
I graduated college in 1994 with a degree in elementary education and English literature and relocated to Virginia after a year-and-a-half working as a nanny in Philadelphia.
I loved Stafford County Schools and made it my goal to get a job here and was hired to teach at Grafton Village Elementary School in 1997. From 1997-2005, I worked as a teacher in K-8 in three different states.
I became a stay-at-home mom to my son, Aidan, in 2005 and in 2007, I completed my M.Ed. in curriculum and instruction—a month before my twin girls, Annalise and EV were born.
I had different jobs through those years before starting Fairy Godmother Project, including freelance education writing, online teaching and working for an au pair placement service. So when the opportunity to start FGP came along, everything felt right.
Why did you create the Fairy Godmother Project?
In 2003, I lived down the street from a family whose child had survived brain cancer. The family shared the struggles of facing a crisis of this kind and how alone they felt over the course of their child’s treatment. This really stuck with me and six years later when I learned that the daughter of an acquaintance was diagnosed with brain cancer, I felt compelled to help this woman and her family. Over time, the mom and I became friends which gave me insight into the life of a family facing pediatric cancer—the change in routine and finances, the struggles, the worries, the difficulty of keeping up with everyday life and the heartache. Seeing this made me want to do more for these mothers and fathers as they faced the unthinkable.
How large is the organization?
We have two chapters—Fredericksburg and Southern Maryland.
Why is awareness for pediatric cancer important?
Pediatric cancer awareness is important because 13,000 children a day are diagnosed and 25 percent of those children will not survive. It is underfunded and research has not made many strides through the years. In the last 20 years, there has been only one new drug approved by the FDA to treat childhood cancer. Like most diseases, people don’t give pediatric cancer much thought until it impacts someone they know or love, but the reality is they should.
Often it is thought that once a child beats cancer, the effects are over, but that isn’t the case. Few people know the stats or the realities of the long-term physical side effects of the treatment, which can include learning problems, developmental delays, heart problems, infertility, developing a second type of cancer and many more. Plus the emotional strain of the cancer can impact the family for years.
How many new cases are diagnosed in your coverage area each year?
I don’t have any stats on our particular community because most stats are based on the hospitals, and we do not have any pediatric cancer treatment facilities in Fredericksburg. According to a group in Richmond, in 2012, there were 52 new diagnoses at MCV, which includes children from our community who received treatment there, but many families in our community go to other hospitals for treatment.
Do you work with any hospitals? If so, how?
We have recently developed a great working relationship with The ASK Clinic at MCV, which is the hospital in Richmond. They refer families to us regularly and help us get the paperwork in for new families. From time to time, families are referred to us by The Life with Cancer Center at Children’s Hospital in D.C.
How do families come into contact with you?
It varies, but often through word-of-mouth from families who are already receiving services from FGP. Because of our working relationship with ASK, we often get families sent to us by them.
What is the process for receiving aid from FGP?
Families fill out an online application where they tell their story and needs. Then they have their oncologist fill out a confirmation of treatment form and then we match them to one of our lead volunteers. Then, if time allows, the family’s lead volunteer and I go to the home to meet the family, share with them what we do and how we will support them during their child’s treatment.
What has been the response of the community regarding the project?
Fredericksburg is an amazing, supportive community. Never did I imagine the support we would receive from individuals and businesses in Fredericksburg. We have volunteers who have been involved since our inception which is amazing. Plus, we have business partners who signed on in October 2011 and are still with us. One man who we call our Fairy Godfather donates every month both gas cards and money. Alis at Bangz does hair cuts for the families and Grass Roots Lawn Care donates some of their services to our families. The General Store got on board in 2013 and is providing meals to our families, too. We have many businesses that have sponsored events, donated meals and continue to support our efforts. We have too many to list here but are so very thankful for all of them. MacDoc Realty has been a huge supporter for us as a sponsor, donor and providing us with many volunteers! We also have many individuals who donate both time and money to our organization.
How many families have you helped?
In 2014 in the Fredericksburg area, we provided our family services to 18 different families. We also oversaw the support of another 10 families located in Southern Maryland and Richmond, VA for a total of 28. It was wonderful to see some of these families transition out of our support and move on to life in remission.
Tell us how volunteers can get involved.
We have all sorts of volunteer positions that can fit into different schedules and lifestyles. Volunteers can easily double the meals they are already making for their own families to deliver to the families we serve though we do not do in home meal making during Flu Season. Also, we have monthly meal making sessions at local churches. Volunteers can help with yard work and house organizing. They can also help with behind the scenes stuff, like event planning, administrative tasks, fundraising and marketing. People can always plan awareness or fundraising events for FGP. We are happy to put anyone to work!
There is a volunteer application on our website and they will also need to sign a waiver and provide references. Depending on what types of activities they want to get involved with, they may need a background check. Volunteer training is held every couple of months to provide additional information and training about various volunteer aspects.
How can local businesses get involved today?
We are always looking for business partners in the community to help provide services for our families. Businesses such as house cleaners, lawn services and restaurants that feel they can provide something helpful for our families are invited to contact us. The more support from our community the more families we can support.
Where do you see the project in the next 5 years? 10 years?
Our hope is that FGP will become a national organization with chapters all over the country. Right now we are working on making Fredericksburg, our core chapter, stronger with strategic planning so that goal can be achieved.