Smiles and laughter are in short supply in pediatric oncology units.
But at The Landing – the new home of the Dragonfly Foundation – giggles and good feelings abound.
The Mason-based nonprofit organization, which provides comfort and care to children and young adults with cancer and blood diseases, recently celebrated a move into new and expanded office space at 9275 Governor’s Way in nearby Symmes Township.
The new 6,000-square-foot-space – formerly Keep it Tight Fitness – is a step up from the organization’s 1,200-square-foot office in the Voice of America Shopping Centre in West Chester.
The expansion allows the organization to offer a lounge room for teens and young adults, a stage for music and entertainment events, conference and library areas, increased storage for care-package items and a gathering place for patients and their families.
The lease was made possible, thanks to a donation by Mark and Melissa Matson of Mason. Mark Matson is the CEO of Matson Money, a financial investment and advisory firm. Organizers furnished the space, which already featured upscale finishes like marble counter tops and hand-blown glass bowls, with donations.
“People are going to flip,” said organization co-founder Ria Davidson. “Everything is high-end. No words can describe the space, but spectacular comes pretty darn close.”
Davidson and Christine Neitzke, both Mason residents and public relations professionals, founded the organization two years ago after Nietzke’s son Matt was diagnosed with cancer. Matt, now 13, is in remission, but the goal of bringing comfort and joy to children “living with and perhaps dying of cancer” continues.
It was Matt who thought of the organization’s namesake of the dragonfly, believed by many to symbolize power and poise, a focus on living in the moment and hope and renewal.
The foundation works with patients at the Cancer and Blood Diseases Institute at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center to help ease the anxiety patients and their families experience while undergoing treatment that can be painful, time-consuming and scary.
“We saw a need. We saw kids crying,” Davidson said. “The hospital is fabulous, but as great as they are, they need help. When we saw the need, we met with the hospital and asked them what they wanted and needed and set about making that happen.
“Children’s Hospital calls what we do ‘truly transformative.’ We’re changing the paradigm of patient care.”
While many nonprofits have floundered in an unsteady economy, the Dragonfly Foundation counts its successes. In its two years, the organization has donated 26 laptops with webcams and distributed more than $10,000 worth of video game systems, toys, books and DVDs to Cincinnati Children’s.
The foundation does not pay bills, but it provides everything else, from tickets to concerts and ballgames to a comforting shoulder to cry on to care packages.
The organization received a boost last summer from Cincinnati Reds announcer Marty Brennaman, who shaved his head on-field after losing a bet that the Reds could win 10 games in a row. The newly bald Brennaman took off his Reds jersey to reveal one of the foundation’s “I’m Still Me” T-shirts underneath. The slogan is part of the nonprofit’s mission to make sick kids more comfortable – and to make people understand that baldness from chemotherapy is just a temporary loss of hair and nothing that changes a person inside.
“I don’t think people understand what treatment involves, that it’s a long, hard journey,” Davidson said. “We try to find ways to let them know we care and that we’re here, and that if they’re having a difficult time, we’ll do something to make them smile.”
“Nothing what we do is rocket science. It’s knowing someone cares about you.”
Demand for the foundation’s services have trickled in from across the country and the new space will allow the nonprofit organization to spread its wings to nearby cities. Davidson hopes to expand into Dayton in 2013, with future plans to move into the Columbus and Indianapolis areas.
“It gives us a chance to see how much space we need,” she said of the new office. “Who knows? As we grow, we might find this isn’t enough.”
IF YOU GO
What: The Dragonfly Foundation’s annual Hearts for Dragonfly Casino Night Gala.
When: 7-11 p.m., Feb. 16.
Where: Marriott Inn-Mason, 9664 Mason Montgomery Road.
What to expect: The night of live music, dinner and casino entertainment includes appearances by Cincinnati Reds announcer Marty Brennaman and other possible celebrity guests. The event includes a silent auction, with the big ticket item of a week’s stay at a Sarasota, Fla., condo with BMW provided.
Tickets: $125. Purchase online at www.beadragonfly.org or call 513-494-6474.