In the spring of 2003, Hope Bertelsen, a seventh grader, was diagnosed with neuroblastoma – a rare cancer that usually strikes very young children. Hope, along with her family – homemaker mother Gemma, computer-professional father John, and two young brothers – was facing a year or more of dangerous and often experimental surgeries. Treatment was begun immediately at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), which is located more than an hour from the Bertelsen’s home. Because of the seriousness of Hope’s condition and the complexity of the frequent medical decision to be made, one of Hope’s parents need to be in residence at CHOP most of the time. The burden on this family – emotional, spiritual, and financial – was enormous.
Montgomery Township is a close-knit and affluent exurb, and many individuals immediately became aware of the Bertelsen’s situation. Members of the community, those who knew the Bertelsens through their involvement in the church, Scouts, children’s sports, and the local chapter of Mothers of Multiples, as well as those who did not know the Bertelsens at all, wanted to assist this loved and deserving family. But, as often the case, people were hesitant to intrude at such a difficult time. What was needed was a point person – someone to be in constant contact with the Bertelsens and who would be able to coordinated financial and domestic support on their behalf. It would be an enormous task to undertake.
Within days, Kathy Martin – a friend of Hope’s mother – took control and established the Hope for Hope project to assist the Bertelsens in numerous ways. For the next year Hope for Hope bound the community of Montgomery together in a common goal – to allow Gemma and John the time to be with their daughter without distractions.
The Hope for Hope project included the following efforts:
· Hope for Hope fund at a local bank
· Prayer and volunteer sign up event at Hope’s church
· Hope for Hope T-shirts and note cards – both of which used artwork Hope created during therapy at CHOP – were donated by local businesses and offered for sale to the public at numerous businesses and project events.
· Belle Mead Hot Glass, a local artisan, donated handmade blown glass ornaments for sale to the public at numerous local businesses and project events.
· Kathy Martin, jewelry designer, donated handmade “hearts and stars” necklaces and bracelets for sale to the public.
· A local deli named a sandwich for Hope and donated a percentage of the profits to the fund.
· Rummage sales
· Bake sales
· Blood drives
· Home cooked meals delivered three times a week
· Sale of individual quilt squares, which were signed with good wishes from members of the community and then sewn together and presented to the Bertelsens at An Evening of Hope
· An Evening of Hope, a dinner and auction event, with the venue and food underwritten by a local private school, raised over $125,000. This event was sold out with 550 attendees.
Kathy emailed project volunteers regularly with information on Hope’s medical condition and upcoming Hope for Hope events/volunteer opportunities – as well as requests for prayer – and asked the volunteers to forward the information to any local “group lists” to which they had access. Up to date information and requests for assistance reached hundreds of people frequently – and several times a day during periods of crisis.
What Kathy gave Montgomery was more than Hope for Hope. She gave us power and strength and vision. She inspired us with her commitment, her willingness to sacrifice herself, and reminded us that when there was nothing left to be done we could pray – and tat our prayers would make a difference. She taught the community of Montgomery that with love and sacrifice we could be each other’s safety net.
Hope attended her Girl Scout Silver award ceremony in May and her eight grade graduation – at which she received a standing ovation from her classmates – in June. She spent the summer at home or on her various outings and vacations with her family. She began home tutoring in the ninth grade curriculum this month. She remains, every day, in the thoughts and prayers of her neighbors and friends.