Category Archives: Philanthropy

Shaving my head for kids with cancer and its teachable moments

This is a guest post by Tanya Juarez-Sweeney, Child and Family Services Project Specialist at Children’s, who, along with her husband and son, shaved her head during the St. Baldrick’s Foundation head-shaving event, hosted at Children’s in Minneapolis, in March.

“Hello, my name is Tanya Juarez-Sweeney, and I’ll be your volunteer tour guide today. When I’m not volunteering at the art museum, I work at Children’s Hospital just a few blocks from here, and that is why I have this awesome new haircut. We had a celebration for some of our cancer patients, and they shaved my hair!”

This has become my standard greeting for the elementary school tours I lead at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts — one of Children’s community art partners. It has been the best part of my post-shave experience, as it offers many teachable moments. Shaving my hair has also been a lot of fun. Usually once a day I look into a mirror and sing “Nothing Compares to You” by Sinead O’Connor. I do it because I can. It’s a benefit of my new hairdo.

Going from having super long hair to being bald gets attention. It gives me the opportunity to brag about our organization and the amazing strength of the hematology oncology kids we serve. These opportunities are everywhere – at restaurants, gas stations, and in my neighborhood. With every encounter, there’s a chance to explain my new hairdo. These sharing moments are contagious and inspiring to those around me. I feel pride in paying it forward.

During the month following the hair-shaving event, I volunteered at my neighborhood elementary school. It was perfect timing. I was able to engage the students in discussions about the many ways we can give back to the community and help others. As part of a class art project, the children made Tzedakah boxes. We discussed how the boxes are used to collect money to give back to those in need, but there are other ways to help others, like shaving your head or raking a lawn. A few weeks later, I received a large envelope full of thank-you notes from the kids that included their ideas for their Tzedakah box money. Many were saving their money for Children’s.

The St. Baldrick’s Foundation event on March 29 raised nearly $20,000 for pediatric cancer research and was a celebration of the bravery and courage our patients have. Never have I felt such joy as I did that night. I’m sure I had a permanent smile plastered on my face the entire evening.

After leaving the hospital, I posted the following on Facebook:  “Shaved by 2 patients tonight, and feeling joyful. As I left the hospital a light rain started. What a feeling to feel rain on the top of your head! It was like little tickles or kisses from nature. I can’t help but feel that the honored kids who couldn’t be there tonight were giving me a little present.”

To read Tanya’s first post about why she shaved her head, click here.

Find your pace: Participate in the HeartBeat 5000

Shay, on the right, with her sister Dru

When Shay Dschaak was five days old, she had her first of many surgeries at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.

During the first year of her life, she spent several months hospitalized for various heart procedures. Now, the 2-year-old is considered “repaired,” her mom, Sarah Dschaak, said. “It was a crazy start, but she is the most feisty, little red-headed girl. She is so full of life,” she said.

And Sarah is so thankful. That’s why she, her family and friends will travel nearly 12 hours from their North Dakota town to Minneapolis for the HeartBeat 5000 on June 23.

“I decided this is a great thing, and it’s one of the ways I can give back to Children’s after what they did for my family,” Sarah said.

In its tenth year, the HeartBeat 5000, held at Father Hennepin Park in Minneapolis, will bring together patients, families, staff and the community to celebrate the daily miracles at Children’s. Since its development, the event has raised more than $1.4 million for the hospital’s cardiovascular program and Family Needs Fund.

The event has grown considerably during the last few years. In 2010, 47 teams participated and last year, there were 80. So far this year, 99 teams have registered.

Sarah’s team, RedHeaded Hearts, has raised about $7,000 to date. She organized a Cinco de Mayo party, complete with bingo games and a live auction, which generated about $6,000. Her team has also raised money through their website.

“If it wasn’t for Children’s, we wouldn’t have Shay,” Dschaak said. “[Participating in HeartBeat] is the least I can do for what they did for Shay.”


Team Julia’s Beat will make their fifth appearance at the race. The team draws big numbers. In 2010, they topped all teams with about 80 members and last year, they raised the most money — approximately $5,400.

Team captain and proud mom Kelly Olejar hopes for another strong team showing this year.

“Everyone has grown to love it. It doesn’t have to affect them directly,” she said.

Kelly’s oldest daughter, Julia, was born with a heart defect. At seven weeks, she had surgery and ended up spending the entire summer in the hospital due to complications.

Julia, now a healthy 5-year-old and the star on the team, participates in the event. “She calls it the big walk,” Kelly said “She’s kind of getting it that it’s about her.”

Kelly also tries to give back through volunteering at the hospital and helping other families. “We count our blessings,” she said. “I don’t know big people in big places, but I can do something to give back.”

Returning for the second time to the HeartBeat 5000 is Moms on the Run, a running program for women throughout the Twin Cities.

Last year, an estimated 40 people affiliated with Moms on the Run participated in the race. Founder and CEO Karissa Johnson says she expects a bigger turnout this year.

The group participates in one race event every month, Karissa said. The family-friendly environment, central location and beautiful urban setting at the HeartBeat 5000 are among its highlights, she said.

“We’re always looking for an event with a good cause to support,” she said. “I just felt that children’s health was something we could all rally around.”

Want to get involved? Sign up today! Join a team, start your own or run as an individual! For more information, click here.


Star Gala raises over $2M for Children’s

Star Gala performance Caiah's performance of "Beautiful" by Christina Aguilera for Children'sThe crowd was brought to tears following a performance by 10-year-old Caiah Rodgers, a Children’s patient and leukemia survivor, singing her rendition of Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful.”

We held our Star Gala, the 21st Annual Thank God for Kids event, on April 21 to raise money to benefit the support, care, and comfort to children and families at Children’s. This year’s Star Gala had a fantastic turnout, drawing more than 940 guests to the Historic Milwaukee Road Depot to show their support.

Through silent and live auctions, sponsorships, and donations, Children’s Star Gala raised $2.1 million for the cancer and blood disorders program and the new Neuroscience Center!

The cancer and blood disorders program supports new research and provides services to treat more than 70 percent of the children with cancer in the Twin Cities, while our new Neuroscience Center will combine all brain and spine specialties in one location to improve care coordination and outcomes for kids battling head and spine injuries.

“Children’s relies heavily on community support to provide the kind of world-class care families have come to expect from us. The generosity of those who attend our gala never ceases to both amaze and humble me,” said Theresa Pesch, executive director of the Foundation of Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.

While the food, dancing, and auctions were a large part of the festivities, the focus of the Star Gala was on the kids that are impacted by our care. Parents Emily and Masud Mamun shared the story of their 3-year-old daughter Lyla, a brain tumor survivor, who endured multiple brain, spine and other surgeries that rendered her temporarily quadriplegic. Through the care she received at Children’s, Lyla is now walking, and thriving.

We couldn’t have pulled this event off without the help of our wonderful sponsors. Major sponsors of the 2012 Children’s Star Gala included Knutson Construction Company, UnitedHealth Group, Great Clips, Ryan Companies U.S., Inc., Whitebox Advisors, RJF Agencies, Dedicated Logistics, Best Buy and API Group, Inc.

Thank you to everyone who attended the 2012 Children’s Star Gala and donated your time and money to support Children’s!

St. Baldrick’s Foundation fundraiser at Children’s: Why I am shaving my head

This is a guest post by Tanya Juarez-Sweeney, Child and Family Services Project Specialist at Children’s, who, along with her husband and son, will be shaving her head during Thursday’s St. Baldrick’s Foundation head-shaving event, hosted at Children’s – Minneapolis.

It was a typical day in Star Studio when someone knocked on the door. That someone was Dr. Kris Ann Schultz, one of Children’s pediatric oncologists. This chance encounter would lead me to the decision to join the St. Baldrick’s Foundation fundraiser taking place at Children’s on Thursday, March 29.

“How many women do you have signed up to shave?” a coworker asked.

“None yet. It is harder to get women to sign up,” Dr. Shultz answered.

“I’d shave my head for that cause,” I chimed in.

“If you do that, I’ll donate $50,” my coworker replied

“If you do it, I’ll donate $50 too,” Dr. Schultz added.

And so it began.

I spent a few days thinking the decision through, bouncing it off people and considering their opinions. Amusingly, a few people offered to donate to keep me from shaving. Several people shared their stories of someone they knew who was a patient at Children’s; touching my heart and reaffirming the immense pride I have in the work we do here.

Ultimately it came down to the question “Why wouldn’t I?” Would I look too scary to lead the children’s field trips at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts where I volunteer? Would my own children get teased at school about their mother’s new look? What would they think? Exactly. What message would I send my children and the children I volunteer with if I did this? A darn good one, I decided.

As a former Army Staff Sergeant, I believe in leading by example; walking the walk. I’m not only sending a message to the children fighting this disease that I stand by them and support them, I am creating teachable moments for those around these families, and raising money for research to boot; win-win-win.

I have been asked a plethora of questions:

“What do your husband and kids think?” My daughter and son think I will look like a ‘cool punk girl.’ In fact, my son thinks it is so great, he has signed up to shave with me and my daughter donated her hair to Locks of Love.

My husband is also a Children’s employee. He tells me I’ll be “striking” and I know that he loves me in part for the fact that I am not superficial, but I know he’ll miss these crazy locks of hair. How lucky am I that he “gets it.” Not only does he get it, he’s also going to shave with me. What an amazing life partner I have.

 “Are you going to wear a scarf/hat/wig after the shave?” Sure, maybe a hat once in awhile. I like hats. But doesn’t that defeat part of the purpose? I’m raising money for this cause but also sending a message to the hematology/oncology kids I see every day. I care. I stand by you. I admire your strength. And thanks for showing me how to rock this look!

“Do you think you might cry when they shave your head?” If you have looked at any of the photos on the St Baldrick’s website, you are bound to come across some tears. For a few, they may be tears of loss from the attachment they have to their hair. For many I think the tears are symbolic of their support and dedication to this cause.

Will I cry? I’ve thought about this. My head will either be shaved by my co-worker (who will be MC’ing the show as our beloved TV character, The Dude) or by a patient. If a patient does the shaving, I’m pretty sure I’ll shed a few tears.

I’ve been hearing a lot of feedback about how brave I am to shave my head for this cause. But I am not the brave one; the kids who fight this disease are.

Recently, I heard a mother express concern about her 9-year-old daughter returning to school and getting teased by her classmates because she not only has no hair, she also has a large scar from her surgery. This girl touched my heart. Her bravery is bigger than anything I can imagine.

Anytime something unjust happens to a child, it fills me with sadness and helplessness. What can I do? What is in my power? Perhaps there isn’t much I can do. But maybe the smallest thing, like shaving my head, can make a statement that I care. And if it raises money for children’s cancer research in the process, then what a great thing.

Our end-of-year giving campaign

We launched our new end-of-year giving campaign this week, including three new commercials that focus on the importance of giving locally, our pediatric cancer program and how we treat every kid who walks through our doors. As you consider giving during the holiday season, please remember what it means to take care of Minnesota kids. Please consider making a gift. Your support makes all the difference.

A sick kid without insurance is still a kid. And we treat every kid who needs it. Last year alone, we provided more than $50 million of care that wasn’t covered by insurance. Your support helps make this possible.


We treat more kids with cancer than any other hospital in the state. From clinical research to pain management to early physical therapy, your donations help us provide local kids with the very best cancer care.

Your support helps ensure that local kids will continue to receive some of best pediatric care in the country. Hey, we’re Minnesotans. We believe in taking care of our own.


Join us for the MN MUSIC 4 MN KIDS CD release party Nov. 13

We’re excited to share news about MN MUSIC 4 MN KIDS, new collaboration between Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota and some of the most talented musicians in our state. Each of the artists on this album donated their time and talent for one reason: They care about Minnesota’s kids.

All proceeds from the CD and the event will support Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota and our commitment to providing the best possible care to all children. Come to our release party Nov. 13 to see some of the bands and grab the CD! Continue reading

Minnesota Wild Captain Mikko Koivu sponsors private patient rooms at Children’s – St. Paul

Minnesota Wild captain Mikko Koivu checks out one of the rooms he sponsored at Children's - St. Paul for the first time.

Today, Minnesota Wild captain Mikko Koivu announced a generous donation to Children’s – St. Paul to sponsor two private patient rooms in the new Neuroscience and Epilepsy Center. The rooms will be decorated with Wild and Koivu memorabilia, photos, posters and collectibles.

The Wild have been long-time supporters of Children’s. Koivu has been a frequent visitor, spending time with patients and families. On a recent tour of Children’s, he wanted to do something to give back and decided to sponsor two private patient rooms.

Unfortunately, rooms on this floor will not be open to families until Children’s receives philanthropic support for all the private patient rooms on this unit. That’s why generous acts like this are so important to Children’s, and why Koivu is asking others in the business community to consider touring the facility to see firsthand the care that is provided.

If you’d like to join Koivu in his spirit of generosity, please consider making a gift to Children’s by contacting Jennifer Peterson at our Foundation by calling 612-813-7075.

Therapy dogs help child with autism

Kadin’s story: Hope on a Leash:

Kadin, who was diagnosed with autism, struggled to communicate, would often have breakdowns and had trouble paying attention during his therapy sessions at Children’s. That’s where Sasha came in.

Sasha is one of our therapy dogs in our Pets Assisting With Healing program. At the suggestion of Nicole Linstrom, Kadin’s occupational therapist, Sasha began attending Kadin’s therapy sessions. Kadin immediately bonded with Sasha, and having her there helped him pay more attention during his sessions.

Therapy dogs worked so well for Kadin that his family even adopted a therapy dog of their own, Truman, from Can Do Canines.

Our Pets Assisting With Healing volunteers help patients with development and rehabilitation and brighten their stay in the hospital.

Learn more about our Pets Assisting With Healing program, and see Sasha and others in action working with patients here:

Isaiah gives back to Children’s

Isaiah and Mikah sports SpiritDomes, which designed a hat specifically for Isaiah.

One of our patients, Isaiah, recently came back to Children’s to donate $300 raised through sales of a hat specifically designed for him.

In 2008, Isaiah Peters arrived at Children’s – Minneapolis, after doctors in his home town of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, diagnosed him with hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS), a complication commonly associated with E. coli. While at Children’s, he spent 27 days on dialysis for total kidney failure and another seven days on life support, mostly in our PICU. Isaiah pulled through and was discharged.

While at a Christian music festival in September 2009, Isaiah’s family met the owner of a hat company called SpiritDomes. After hearing Isaiah’s story, the owner was inspired to make a hat specifically for Isaiah, with a verse from the Book of Isaiah (Chapter 40, Verse 31) inscribed under the hat’s brim. Since creating the hat, it has been SpiritDome’s top seller.

Isaiah donated $300 from the sales of the Isaiah hat to our Urgent Needs fund, which helps fund Children’s most pressing needs. Isaiah’s dad, Jon, also blogged about the experience of getting to see Isaiah’s care team and the place they spent so much time in not long ago.

Have you considered making a gift in tribute to your experience at Children’s? Learn more about tribute giving.