By Kathy Day
Grief finds a way of evolving as the years pass, and sometimes helping others who faced some of the same issues helps a person move forward.
Carmel Valley residents Judy and John Champ, whose son Conner died in 1994 — just a year after being diagnosed with brain cancer — find solace in helping other families with very sick children. They started Conner’s Cause for Children in 1995 and today they keep the organization alive with the assistance of friends, donors and a board that organizes three events a year.
Right now, they’re making final preparations for “Summer Breeze,” a luncheon, boutique and auction set for 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 2 at the Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club. The gathering will feature Elin Stebbins Waldal, an award-winning local author who will talk about “Midlife in Full Swing – What are you doing for the rest of your life.” Harpist Julia Marie Schorn, a Canyon Crest Academy senior and principal harpist of the Symphony Orchestra and Philharmonia of the San Diego Youth Symphony and Conservatory, will perform.
Proceeds from this event will benefit Conner’s Cause for Children, which helps families with the monumental task of caring for a child with a life-threatening illness.
Judy Champ talked about how their life was turned upside down when they found out Conner, then 4, had only a year or two to live.
“You barely have the strength to breathe when you know your child is dying,” she said.
John Champ is a graphic designer and the couple had what his wife said was “normal” income and they had insurance. “But so much is not covered by insurance,” Judy said.
Parents of Conner’s preschool friends pitched in and held an event that raised more than $42,000 to help them out.
After Conner died, there was still money in the fund so they decided to use it to “help other kids,” Judy said. “The last thing you want to worry about is money … You want to be comfortable and be with your child and love that child.”
Today, Conner’s Cause fills a niche not met by other nonprofits, providing small things like gas and grocery cards, paying hotel and airline bills, she said. Sometimes Executive Director Carol Del Signore will even call an insurance company and ask for assistance.
All of the children served are under 18 and live in San Diego, Imperial and parts of Riverside County, but come to San Diego for their care.
One family now getting assistance from Conner’s Cause has two children with severe medical issues, Judy said. Their young daughter has had 50 surgeries for recurrent respiratory papillomatosis and their son has Duchenne’s Muscular Dystrophy and is followed by a clinic in Ohio, as well as a drug trial at UC Davis. On top of that, the parents both lost their jobs last year.
Keeping Conner’s Cause going takes a lot of work and a lot of small donations, said Del Signore. They get a few grants from other foundations but no public funding so events like the June 2 Summer Breeze — which is expected to be sold out as it was last year — play a big part in their ability to help families. Even if people can’t join them for the June 2 event, donations of a Target, gas or grocery card are appreciated.
The event will feature 10 vendors with everything from clothes to plants and housewares, even stationery created by high school students who are friends of the Champ family. All of the vendors will give a portion of the proceeds to Conner’s Cause, said Karen Gliner, who is heading up the event.
There will also be chair massages, a silent auction and a raffle. Among the items is a four-night stay at Mountainback Condominiums in Mammoth in a condo that sleeps eight to 10 people.
Event sponsors include Robert Kearney, M.D.; Tonya Paul, Masterpiece Realty; Karen Penn, Avon Cosmetics; Laurie Chamberlin, Xocai Healthy Chocolate, and Total Woman Gym in Encinitas.
“It’s an opportunity for friends to get together for an elegant Sunday afternoon of lunch and shopping for a great cause,” Del Signore said.
If you go
‘Summer Breeze’ — a benefit for Conner’s Cause for Children
11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., June 2
Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club
www.connerscause.org or call Carol Del Signore (760) 487-1592