Wednesday's Woman: Barbara Riley
Barbara Riley and her husband, Steve, started the Amanda Riley Foundation to "bring smiles to kids battling cancer" five months after their daughter died.
Despite the perilous economy and with no non-profit experience, Barbara Riley, 47, and her husband, Steve, started a foundation in their daughter’s honor a year ago in September that has raised more than $60,000 and brought smiles to 26 children undergoing cancer treatment.
“The focus of the Amanda Riley Foundation is on today and helping kids while they’re in the midst of their battle – not after they’re healed,” Barbara Riley said.
September is Childhood Cancer Awareness month and Riley is passionate about painting Snellville gold – the color representing childhood cancer – by selling gold mailbox and door bows through the foundation. The Chick-fil-A restaurant on Scenic Highway is the site of the foundation’s awareness event which will be held tonight (Aug. 31, 2011) from 5 – 8 p.m. Funds will go to the children who are being treated for cancer at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
“Initially we send all families that we help a welcome package filled with things they can use when they’re heading back and forth to the clinic. It includes a bag, a notebook, pens, and hand sanitizers,” Riley said. The children receive blankets and Volkswagen bug squeeze stress relievers.
When the families enter the hospital from the clinic, the foundation gives them toiletries as well as backpacks filled with activities for the children like crayons and coloring books, markers, coloring pads, and journals – “all sorts of items the kids can use to occupy their time while they’re bedridden and receiving treatments,” Riley said.
In addition, the foundation provides lunch about twice a month for the families and children. “When you’re in the hospital for weeks at a time, you get so tired of cafeteria food,” she said.
Riley knows the needs of the families all too well. She is the mother of two daughters, Brittany, who is 24, and Amanda, who would be a freshman in college this year. Amanda lost her battle with cancer on April 9, 2010. Her parents started the foundation five months later.
“It just came to me one day,” Barbara Riley said. “We wanted to do something to give back. The community, our family and friends, and our church were so giving and caring and so remarkable to us and Amanda through our journey."
"I could see that some of the children we met during Amanda’s treatment didn’t have all the support that Amanda received. God spoke to me and said this is what you need to do. It gives me satisfaction knowing that I’m helping children that are fighting the same battle Amanda did.”
The foundation’s mission is to “bring smiles to kids battling cancer,” Riley said. “We learned through Amanda’s journey to make the most out of every day and to try and make a difference. That’s what we’re trying to do for these children.”
The foundation works with the families through the social workers and child life specialists at the children’s hospitals to determine what the children would like to receive.
A 13-year-old boy was facing 30 days of isolation due to a bone marrow transplant, Riley said. “He asked for a music mixer box and gave me specifics. We ordered that for him and he will receive it tomorrow,” she said.
A 12-year-old boy, one of six children, was facing a leg amputation. Because his family’s funds and time were limited, the foundation bought him seven new outfits for school.
“When he goes back to school, he’ll feel good about the fact that he’s wearing new clothes,” she said, “and won’t be only concentrating on the fact that he lost his leg.”
Barbara and Steve Riley’s goal for the foundation is to grow it to the size of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation so that they can help children in hospitals across the United States. Her husband is “my rock” noting that he works a full-time job and helps in every way he can with the foundation.
“Amanda is 100 percent of my inspiration for everything I do for this foundation...I honestly don’t know what I would do without it,” she said.
“I feel like it’s God’s way of taking care of me, and it’s Amanda’s way of giving me the strength to carry on because it’s something Amanda would want to do,” she said.