Caroline Symmes | Endowment for Pediatric Cancer Research
Caroline Symmes was 5 years old when cancer ended her life. Out of her tragedy, this foundation was born to fund research and inspire hope in future pediatric patients and their families. The Caroline Symmes Endowment for Pediatric Cancer Research at Riley Hospital for Children is the gift she leaves behind, so every child with cancer can live with hope for a bright future of their own.
The Caroline Symmes Cancer Endowment’s founders, David and Libby Symmes, were absolutely floored when they got the news that North Central High School’s students wanted to make a lip dub video to raise money for the endowment. Little did they know, all this amazing effort would lead to over $20,000 in funds raised and a viral online sensation.
The inspiration for this video started with an idea from a faculty sponsor, Mrs. Leslie Decker. Schools around the country have been making Lip Dub music videos to benefit their local charity or hospital. However, none of those schools are like North Central. North Central takes so much pride in its student body. They are all different – different backgrounds, different activities, different groups – but those differences unite them and make them stronger as a school. Also, none of those videos have a place like Riley Hospital to support. The senior class was all-in.
Caroline had Wilms Tumor Disease, which has a 90% survival rate. But Caroline’s tumor was very aggressive, and with such little research into pediatric cancer, her doctors exhausted their options to treat her. At the age of five, Caroline passed away from her disease. Caroline died not because of a lack of care, but because of a lack of funding for pediatric cancer research. In 2016, the federal budget for cancer research was $5.21 billion. Only 4% of that funding goes to pediatric cancer research. The Caroline Symmes Endowment for Pediatric Cancer Research at Riley Hospital for Children hopes to make it possible for every child with cancer to live with hope for a bright future of their own.
We hope that you will support the endowment at Riley Hospital and help stimulate pediatric cancer research so that no child will have to suffer the way that Caroline did. We are so grateful forever to these amazing students and staff for their talent, time, and energy.
President – Jack Morel, Vice-President – Joey Mervis, Treasurer – Kit Hanley, Secretary – Abby Peterson
Have you ever thrown a party, had nearly 200 hundred people show up, and raised $8,000 for charity? If not, and you’re curious about how, take a page out of the book of Adam Cox and his friends. As he was about to turn 30, rather than simply have a party, Cox decided he’d like to use his birthday as an opportunity to bring awareness to the work of the Caroline Symmes Caner Endowment.
Being a longtime family friend of the Symmes, Cox knew Caroline and her story. For him, “When someone you love is affected by cancer, especially pediatric cancer, it really starts to pull at your heart strings.” Determined to put his all into the fundraiser, Cox even enlisted friends Meaghan McKeown and Maggie Contreras to help with decorations and logistics.
Both women were touched by their experiences at the fundraiser. Like Cox they noted that the event was undeniably fun, but what really stood out were their interactions with the Symmes. As McKeown explains, “The strength and determination with which the Symmes approached their loss was incredible.” Neither had met the Symmes before or knew anything about the important work of the Caroline Symmes Cancer Endowment. But after witnessing firsthand the commitment of the Symmes to their mission, both women wanted to learn more.
Wanting to learn more is step one towards helping us reach our goal of raising 8 million dollars for a cancer research center at Riley Children’s Hospital. The next step is lending a hand. We’ve had so many amazing individuals come forward to serve the mission of the endowment. It’s people like these that spur us forward and who will eventually help us cross the finish line. If you want to be there when we do and have an idea to get us closer, we’d love to learn more about you, too.
When Luke Foli, area manager for Proximo Spirits, decided to throw an industry night party, he didn’t need to look much further than Netflix for inspiration. In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, Foli and friends held a party and casino night at the Vogue Theater on March 19th, all themed around the online series Peaky Blinders. The show, which details the world of organized crime in 1920s England, has found a dedicated audience.
“The show has a cult following in the liquor industry,” he said. “I thought it would be a great idea to have an industry night, because so many of my friends work these bars and restaurants on nights and weekends, so very seldom do they have a chance to go out and have fun themselves. I figured if we’re going to have this party, let’s cater it to their interests.”
Phierce Photo | Keith Griner Melissa & John Stevens
Partners for the Party
Thanks to Foli’s numerous personal and professional connections, he was able to partner up with some of Indianapolis’ finest, with Mike Cunningham’s Mesh providing delicious food, Jessica Taylor of Southern Glazers Wine and Spirits mixing up cocktails, and Emmett King, his boss at Proximo Spirits, helping to ensure that the Bushmills kept flowing throughout the entire event. But when it came time to decide on a charitable organization to partner with, he didn’t hesitate in choosing the Caroline Symmes Cancer Endowment.
Phierce Photo | Keith Griner Vogue General Manager Marcus Johnson & Luke Foli
Though he has known David Symmes through his business Crown Liquors, it was a speaking engagement of David’s that made Luke realize what a special and important cause the Endowment was.
“This was before I knew him, and I was so moved by what he said. He lost a daughter to cancer, which is the worst thing ever for any parent,” he said. “In fact, I’ve lost numerous friends to that awful disease.”
Personal Significance Grows
In an extremely unfortunate turn of events, Foli suffered through the death of his very best friend just days before the party was scheduled. And though it was a difficult and trying time, he said he was able to draw strength from both the spirit of the endowment and the memory of his dear companion.
“My buddy that passed was the toughest man I’ve ever seen or heard of,” he said. “He was always about moving ahead in life, no matter what. I knew that I needed to do it, get through it, make it the best event possible, and to raise as much money as possible.”
And raise money they certainly did. With live music from the Kyle Bledsoe Trio pumping through the speakers, guests had a chance to boogie while playing casino games and participating in a silent auction. Thanks to the generous nature of those in attendance, the event generated over $4,000.
Phierce Photo | Keith Griner Emily McGrew
Of course no one does anything alone, and Foli would like to thank Steve Ross, owner of the Vogue, for opening his doors on an off night, as well as Jason King and Marcus Johnson, both leaders at the venue who were of immense help throughout the process. It’s so true that without community support many of our Endowment’s successes would be far more limited. We are so grateful for every person who shares our story, supports our cause, and yes, parties in memory of Caroline and others who have been lost to cancer. If you’re interested in setting up a charity event to help benefit the Caroline Symmes Cancer Endowment, contact us today to learn more.
Roxanne McGettigan, our new Director of Donor Relations, has been working with non-profits for the last twenty years. After attending Austin College in Sherman, Texas, Roxanne put her education in sociology, psychology, and communication to work for the good of others. When a conversation with a friend introduced her to the work of the Symmes, she began doing her research and set up a meeting with Libby. It’s amazing what the power of word of mouth can do for organizations like ours. We are so grateful and thrilled to be working with Roxanne as our new Director of Donor Relations, and we knew all our supporters would want to meet her too.
What role will you fill for the Caroline Symmes Cancer Endowment?
My official title is Director of Donor Relations. What that means for my day to day work is that I’ll be responsible for building and maintaining rapport with our current donors while also reaching out to other potential people interested in contributing to the amazing work David and Libby are doing for pediatric cancer research. Ultimately, I’ll be covering a lot of the administrative work so that Libby can spend more time planning events to bring recognition to our efforts. I’ll also be updating the details of our mailing list, creating a donor page for the website, and revamping the newsletter. As I settle into this position, I’ll begin connecting with the people who support us throughout the year to congratulate them on their achievements as it’s important to ensure that we’re doing everything we can to build genuine relationships.
What work have you done in the past to prepare you for this new adventure?
I’ve had a lot of experience helping organizations create more value in their sponsorship packages—essentially beefing up the tangible benefits of donating. I’ll also be developing the documents necessary to share our organizations mission with potential donors, so we always have those on hand for the events and opportunities we encounter. This is something I’ve done many times in my past working with non-profits.
What do you think is the most important aspect of the endowment to share with others?
Honestly, what struck me when I scheduled my first meeting with Libby is the sincerity and generosity of the endowment’s efforts. It’s a powerful thing to take grief and turn it into something positive for others and I’m really excited to be a part of helping others to see the great work we’ve engaged in and will continue to do. It’s my goal to help increase the amount of money the endowment donates to Riley every year. Right now, we donate $250,000 dollars annually—I want to find actionable and sustainable ways to grow that sum.
We know Roxanne’s passion and experience will translate beautifully to the work we’re already doing. Having her on our team is a great new step for the endowment that will not only help us increase our visibility but also give us more ideas and momentum toward achieving our vision of a pediatric cancer research center at Riley Hospital. Stay tuned for the next big thing and how you can help!
Sophie Cannon just became a teenager. It’s an important time for anyone, one where we first begin to learn who we are and what we value. But in the Jewish faith, it is also an important time where one becomes officially morally responsible for their own actions to their community. For some teens this might be intimidating, but Sophie saw an opportunity to share her passions for friendship and charity to others. At Sophie’s Bat Mitzvah, she shared some of the spotlight with our endowment by allowing us to set up a table and collect donations.
“People went right up to the table we’d set out for the Symmes during the party, and I was so happy,” Sophie described. ”The donations mean a lot to me.” Sophie and her mother worked on the party for over a year. Planning included tracking down decorations for a “glow-in-the-dark” theme, building a donut wall, and hanging slinkies from the ceiling. But, the addition of a fundraiser for the Caroline Symmes Cancer Endowment was all Sophie’s idea.
“It’s important to donate to people who need it more than we do,” Sophie explains. “When it comes to cancer, I know I want to be part of finding the cure.” Sophie has known the Symmes family since she was four years old, and they are so humbled and proud that as she has grown into a woman, she has found her own passion for their cause. Through her generosity of spirit, we had the opportunity to make hundreds more people aware of our endowment and mission.
Being a teenager is tough to navigate, but Sophie’s already making thoughtful choices. When it comes to our fight against pediatric cancer, we need all the help we can get. If you’d like to follow in Sophie’s footsteps, contact us to set up a fundraiser.
David and Libby Symmes got the chance to receive the check from Holyn and her classmates in-person!
When Holyn Drook’s Park Tudor fourth grade class went on winter break, one parent volunteered to pay the class a dollar for each book they could read during the two weeks school was out. Holyn and her classmates worked hard and read a total of 93 books, resulting in 93 dollars for the class to spend however they wished. After encouragement from their teacher Chris Holobeck, the students decided to donate the money to charity. We are ecstatic that they chose The Caroline Symmes Cancer Endowment! Not only did these amazing students read 93 books in two weeks, they took time out of their school day to learn about various charities and what they could do to help.
How did the class pull it off? Students paired up, and each group gave a verbal presentation on a charity they thought deserved this hard-earned cash. Holyn went the extra mile and made a poster to help illustrate why our endowment should be the winner, and she was also the only student in the class who completed the research without a teammate. But, this wasn’t difficult for Holyn. She found herself motivated by the memory of Caroline. Although she’d never met her, Holyn heard Caroline’s story from her mom and dad, who know David and Libby Symmes. Holyn said, “When I think of suffering, I think of cancer.” After researching, Holyn was she was surprised to discover that just 4% of the federal budget for cancer research goes towards learning more about cancer in children. This fact sparked a passion for our cause that Holyn didn’t know she had. “This is a number that we can work together to raise,” she says.
Although Holyn was nervous about the competition, she managed to pull ahead by just one vote. “One group had four members,” she mentioned, taking care to point out that they could have automatically won based on their size. But, Holyn knew that Caroline’s story would have a similar effect on her classmates as it did on her. “Not enough people know what these children are facing,” she explains. Holyn knows her contribution isn’t just about the money. Now each of her classmates knows about the Caroline Symmes Cancer Endowment and that makes her happy.
Holyn’s empathy and passion help us keep moving forward in our mission to raise 8 million dollars for a research center at Riley Children’s Hospital. This goal is so important to us and we’re glad that people like Holyn take the time to understand why, and that young people are taking strides to address this issue individually. Great job to all the kids in the class and thank you for your time and effort to raise money for our research. Did you know that every dollar we receive funds a minute of research?
West Fork is at 1660 Bellefontaine St. in Indianapolis
Although it wasn’t meant to be a party for him, Will Turner and his wife Emily’s fundraiser for the Caroline Symmes Cancer Endowment fell square on Will’s birthday, November 29th. They chose this date because it falls just after Giving Tuesday, a time when they believed people would be more generous. The idea began when Emily’s brother opened West Fork Whiskey, an Indianapolis based distillery. In an effort to do something unique for the space, Will and Emily came up with the fundraiser. This would not only bring visibility to West Fork, it would raise awareness about our endowment’s mission to fund pediatric cancer research.
Our cause is close to Will and Emily’s heart because of their friendship with the endowment’s founders, David and Libby Symmes, and because of their own children. Their oldest is now five, the age Caroline was when she passed away. As Will explains, “We thought about it and realized throwing a fundraiser would be a wonderful and simple way to raise awareness about this endowment, which we only knew about because of meeting the Symmes in the local community.”
Will and Emily’s plan not only worked but was a smash success. What began as a small party grew into a group of nearly 75 attendees who through donations alone raised over $5,000 for the endowment. The Turners matched the first $5,000, and the distillery contributed an additional 10% of all sales during the event. Ultimately, on Will’s birthday, he rallied a generous group of people and gave us the gift of over $13,000!
“It was all out of the goodness of people’s hearts and they were really generous, just an all around nice day,” Will said of this achievement. He added, “The real goal was to get exposure for the organization, because although there are plenty of places to donate, they are one of the best.” Will hopes this will inspire others in the community to take action and support local causes they believe in, like our endowment.
We’re so humbled they chose to share their energy and resources with our cause, in an effort to protect all children everywhere from hearing that there is no further treatment for their cancer. It’s people like them that help us bridge the critical gap in research funding for orphan diseases. Thank you Will, and hey—Happy Belated Birthday!!
Our endowment has grown largely thanks to the support of high schools across Marion and Hamilton Counties here in Central Indiana. Carmel High School annually hosts Runway for Riley, a fashion show whose proceeds support our goal of opening a cutting-edge research center at Riley for orphan pediatric cancers.
One Carmel High student, Bailey Inglis, was especially inspired by our grassroots efforts. “The Runway for Riley fundraiser is a great way for us as students to give money to Riley for whatever they need, but I wanted my bracelets to be a way people could know they were donating specifically to pediatric cancer research,” Bailey said.
Bailey learned how to make her lovely crafts as a stress-releasing hobby when someone gave her the gift of a bunch of beads and supplies. When her friends loved the fashion accessories, she realized she had the opportunity to use her artistic talents for the greater good. “Overall, I have lost count, but I’ve definitely made and sold well over 200 bracelets to benefit the Caroline Symmes Cancer Endowment,” she said. The bracelets sell for $10 each, a perfect price point for an accessory that can also be a conversation starter about the need for pediatric cancer research funding, especially for non-CNS tumors.
Bailey is most excited to know that the endowment is reaching a critical point in our fundraising, and her efforts have helped us get here. She says she’s also learned a lot about time management from her decision. “Now I am better at multitasking—I can study and string bracelets at the same time,” she told us. She also has been grateful for—but not too surprised by—the amazing support of her peers. “I already knew my friends and our community were amazing people, but the number of return customers I have had at school, and just the amount of success in general has really confirmed it,” Bailey said.