Wilton Circle of Care 5K goes virtual this weekend

WILTON — Imagine this. You are a young adult living at home when you find out your parent has tested positive for COVID-19. Add to that the fact you have cancer and need somewhere else to live so you don’t get sick as well.

Earlier this year a single-income family lost one of their children to a brain tumor. Before they could recoup their losses due to their child’s intense treatment, the dad was laid off.

A mother has to make the difficult trip to Manhattan three times a week for her son’s chemotherapy treatments. She was unable to get sanitizing wipes to clean her car after leaving it at a parking garage.

All of these people live in Connecticut and turned to Circle of Care for help. The Wilton-based nonprofit found temporary housing for the young adult cancer patient, provided food and housing support to the now-unemployed family and made “no-contact” drop-offs of those hard-to-get sanitizing wipes.

Under the best of circumstances, Circle of Care works hard to raise money to help the hundreds of families that rely on them for emotional and practical support. These certainly are not the best of circumstances and co-founders Liz Salguero and Dawn Ladenheim have had to cancel fundraisers that would have brought in tens of thousands of dollars.

One event they would not cancel is the 5K that takes place each spring in Wilton Center. This year the run has gone virtual and participants may run or walk at a time convenient to them on May 1, 2 or 3. They may do it in their neighborhood, backyard, or on a treadmill. To register, visit https://runsignup.com/Race/CT/Wilton/CircleofCare5K.

At least one participant will be doing it in a dress. Andy Pforzheimer has started a fundraiser on Facebook, pledging to run the 5K in a dress if he raised $4,000. If he raised $5,000, he would post a photo. So far the total is approaching $5,000. To get in on it, visit https://bit.ly/2W8varU.

“This is a particularly devastating time for the families who cannot work or reduce their expenses because their child’s medical care is critical,” Salguero said. “Our financial support is needed more now than ever.”

Over the past 17 years, families across the state that receive the devastating news their child has cancer have come to rely on Circle of Care. The organization has helped some 2,000 families during that time. There are about 600 children in treatment in Connecticut at any one time.

Circle of Care, which operates out of one of the historic barns at Lambert Corner on Route 7, works closely with social workers and child life specialists at Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital/Smilow Cancer Center and Connecticut Children’s Medical Center to deliver its programs.

“Pediatric cancer leaves families physically, emotionally, and financially vulnerable. COVID-19 has pushed our low-wage, working families to the knife’s edge,” Salguero and Ladenheim wrote in an appeal letter. They have established a COVID-19 Relief Fund to help at a time when families’ already difficult lives have become more complicated.

“One mom was preparing to go back to work after her son finished six months of intensive chemotherapy. Now, the fast food chain where she works cannot hold her job, and she already exhausted her family and medical leave taking care of her son during his leukemia treatments,” they said.

“Another parent, who is a per diem healthcare aide, cannot work because she is at risk of bringing the virus home to her immune-compromised teenage daughter.”

“These families cannot work from home, they cannot go to work, and their children are sick,” they said.

While the organization’s direct contact programs are on hold, emotional support is provided on the phone. COVID-19-related resources are on the website at thecircleofcare.org, and that is also where families may apply for financial aid.

To keep spirits up, there is also a virtual program called Art from the Heart at Home — a drawing class for children and siblings every Tuesday.

“As a country, we are all experiencing the various stages of grief: shock, denial, anger, bargaining and acceptance. These are the same stages you go through as the parent of a child with cancer, and our families are doubly impacted by this pandemic. We are doing everything we can, from a safe distance, to continue to provide the support, care and resources these families have come to count on over the past 17 years,” Salguero and Ladenheim said.

Quoting Mr. Rogers, they said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say, look for the helpers, you will always find people who are helping.”

They are hoping the community will be their helpers.