Welcome back to the PAC2 Childhood Cancer Advocacy Interview Series! Today, as we drop the green flag on September - National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, we are honored to talk with Jeff Gordon, the founder of The Jeff Gordon Children's Foundation. We expect to be sharing other chats throughout the month. We thank Jeff for helping Kick-It off, and for the outstanding work he and his crew do in the fight against childhood cancer!
1. Jeff, first of all, don’t take this the wrong way, but there is no way you can ever really “get” how much we in the childhood cancer community appreciate the work you do. We're honored to chat, and on behalf of the entire childhood cancer community, thank you for all you do.
Now, as a NASCAR superstar who’s been interviewed a million times, you’ll expect the first question: “How does that make you feel”?
Thank you. I’m truly honored that people appreciate the work I’m doing through my foundation. I believe that every child should live a happy and healthy life and not be restricted by disease -- especially pediatric cancer. We’re doing all we can in this fight, and thanks to all the fans and donors that have and are helping us.
2. Please tell us how you became aware of childhood cancer; who your first heroes were?
I was introduced to childhood cancer because Ray J, my former crew chief Ray Evernham’s son, was diagnosed with Leukemia when he was one. I remember what Ray and his entire family had to go through and it was devastating to see. It inspired me to get involved.
3. At what point did you decide that you needed to take action and what was that action?
I think the action I took was starting my own foundation. I knew I could only do so much on my own. I needed a group of people to help me make an even bigger difference.
4. So tell us what the Jeff Gordon Children's Foundation does, and where it does it.
We fund locally, nationally and now globally. We give funding to the most promising research, we provide access to cancer treatments in a resource poor country and we provide patient support programs through our Promise Circle. We are doing some great things and I’m really proud of all that we are accomplishing, but so much more still needs to be done.
5. Please tell us more on the international work you are doing, because, to me, that aspect of the foundation is quite unique within the childhood cancer community here in the States.
It’s definitely unique and something I’m honored to be a part of. We have partnered with Partners and Health and the Dana Farber Cancer Institute to bring a comprehensive cancer care program to Rwanda, Africa with the hopes that this model can be replicated in other resource poor countries. Our commitment is focused on these areas: prevention, diagnosis, chemo and radiation therapies, surgery and survivor follow-up care for children faced with cancer. We hope to make a great impact and with our partners.
6. I’ve seen pictures of you, Anika Sorenson, Serena Williams, Jimmie Johnson, Vince Gill, Kurt Busch, Jerrod Neiman all holding a sign, and the sign read “I’m Kicking It”, tell us about the Kick-It program.
Kick-It is an amazing grassroots program that was started in 2009 by a young man named Quinn Clarke, who I had the privilege of meeting in Michigan earlier this year. Quinn wanted to find a way to raise money for childhood cancer research and, since kickball was his favorite game, he and his family decided to hold a kickball game in their neighborhood. It was organized in a week and raised over $5,000. Since then, Kick-It has raised almost a million dollars. The great thing about Kick-it is that it is turn key. The website (kick-it.org/jeffgordon) provides all the materials you need to hold your own fundraising kickball game.
7. How can people get involved in Kick-It?
Anyone can organize their own Kick-It game in their community, with their church, place of business, etc. All you need to do is find an open field, secure a date and time, set up a game page and begin fundraising. Kick-It can be organized at any level, from a neighbor’s backyard to a huge corporate tournament. I can’t be at all of the fundraising events because of my racing schedule, so this is a way for my supporters to help us fundraise for better research.
8. Is there a way that kick-it events can honor a particular child? The funds being donated in his or her name?
Yes, you can definitely do that. Titling your game “Kicking-It for Quinn” -- as an example -- is a great way to honor a child in your community or someone you know that is battling cancer or is a survivor. When you organize your game page there is an option to note if the game is in honor of someone.
9. That’s wonderful, it sounds like a great program and it’s already raised nearly $1 million dollars nationwide. But knowing the level of planning that you put into an eight second pit stop, I know that’s just part of your plan. What is the long-term plan for the JGCF?
Our focus is childhood cancer research, treatment and patient support. We are really narrowing our funding efforts to clinical trials and research that are making the biggest impact or have the potential to make the biggest impact. Our goal is and will always be a cure. Anything we can do to get there.
10. Jeff, over the years you’ve been exposed to childhood cancer. Based on our experiences, that can really change a person. I know it’s a personal question, but do you think you’ve changed and if so how.
Yes, I’ve definitely changed from my experiences with meeting children that are affected by cancer. It’s heartbreaking -- yet inspiring at times to witness their resolve in this battle . Now that I am a parent I can better understand what the parents of children with cancer are feeling. I will say that with almost all the kids I have met, they have always been extremely strong and resilient and that inspires me. Most of the time, you would never even know they weren’t feeling well or having a bad day. I know the importance of giving back and if I can help to change their lives by funding research or treatment efforts, then I am going to do that.
Godspeed #24. Thank you very much, Jeff.
It is so great that you are giving your time talent and treasure to this worthwhile cause. I believe we could kick childhood cancer if others could help the way you are.
Tom Pilko, Gabby's grandfather