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Pediatric Cancer Foundation of the Lehigh Valley

This Nonprofit is on its Way

Like so many nonprofits, the COVID-19 pandemic exposed the strengths and weaknesses of the Pediatric Cancer Foundation of the Lehigh Valley (PCFLV).

“When COVID hit, everybody experienced what a cancer parent experiences,” said Michelle Zenie, the Executive Director of PCFLV. “Everything comes to a grinding stop and you have to hunker down and focus on the things that are really important.”

Zenie understands this too, as the parent of a pediatric cancer survivor. Zenie’s son was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in 2001 when he was only three years old. Zenie navigated cancer treatments for three years, experiencing the isolation and confusion of being a pediatric cancer parent.

“Part of the reason why doing this job is so important to me is I realize what having this type of support would have meant for us,” said Zenie, who became the Executive Director of PCFLV in 2013.

“It has been the greatest blessing of my life outside of my kids,” Zenie said. “(PCFLV) is my heart and soul and is very, very personal to me.”

This nonprofit provides a long list of services for families on their pediatric cancer journey. Special visits to children while they’re in the hospital, college scholarships for cancer survivors, and a hand painted portrait of every child who passes away are all special programs of the PCFLV.

“We do an incredible job of connecting with families,” Zenie said. “We are a very small group and it gives us an opportunity to get to know our families well.”

Families within the Pediatric Cancer Foundation of the Lehigh Valley system receive grocery cards to help reduce the burden of food costs. Parents can log in to virtual support groups to relate to other families going through a cancer journey. Siblings of a pediatric cancer patient also receive nurturing attention and support through art classes and other enrichment.

“These are all the places where PCFLV steps in,” Zenie said. “You can’t change the fact your kid has cancer and is literally being pumped full of poison. So we focus on all of the other ways we can make it a little bit better.”

This deep connection drives a few successful fundraising events each year, including a walk/run, golf outing, and annual spring fundraising gala.

Their eastern Pennsylvania donors respond well to races and silent auctions, and strong corporate sponsorships provide helpful special event revenue too. But Zenie describes her organization as being poised for change.

“What COVID taught us is we couldn’t rely necessarily on the in-person events to carry us,” Zenie said. “We have never done a monthly giving program or annual appeal. We’ve never gotten a major gift. It’s overwhelming to think about who could give a major gift to PCFLV.”

The PCFLV is well on its way to realizing their goals of nurturing their strong special events calendar while also developing a portfolio of major gifts. The organization is investing in board development and is building their staff too.

These investments combine with a compelling capital campaign project for the organization. The PCFLV desires to establish a permanent home after renting an office and using community spaces for programming since the nonprofit’s founding in 2003. A dedicated space for the Pediatric Cancer Foundation of the Lehigh Valley would permit growth for their camps and support for their many various services.

“We are really hoping to find someone willing to help us create a permanent physical home for our foundation. A space where we can increase our programming in many different ways,” Zenie said.

Initially founded nearly 20 years ago by a mom whose son suffered from brain cancer, PCFLV has grown tremendously from its humble roots. This nonprofit began as a source of yoga classes and small family activities for families navigating their pediatric cancer journey. But Zenie is ready for PCFLV to “step up into the world.”

“I think we could keep doing what we’ve been doing, stay stagnant and keep doing wonderful things for the community who needs us,” she said. “But we are taking a bit of a risk and following our hearts. We are placed to make a leap in who we are and what we do.”

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