Photo courtesy of Heather Durham Photography.
Hope for Autumn
Hope for Autumn Foundation Executive Director Amanda Knerr is pictured with her daughter, Emily, who was diagnosed with a rare form of ovarian cancer at age 6. Today, Emily is cancer-free.
In 2006, a group of friends gathered for a backyard crawfish boil in Ross Bridge. Local resident Travis Diggs organized the event to raise money for his best friend’s daughter, Autumn, who was battling cancer.
Following the event, he realized he had begun something special.
“It was going so well we decided to continue to do it,” said Diggs, president and founder of the Hope for Autumn Foundation. “It started out as just a couple hundred people, and now it’s grown to about 2,000 people.”
The 2015 Hope for Autumn Foundation Crawfish Boil will be held at the end of this month in Ross Bridge. The Hope for Autumn Foundation, which evolved from the annual event, benefits the Alabama Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorder’s Developmental Therapeutics Program and provides financial assistance to families with children battling cancer.
One child’s story
For Executive Director Amanda Knerr, her connection to the foundation is a deeply personal one. In October of 2009, her 6-year-old daughter Emily was diagnosed with an extremely rare type of ovarian cancer. Emily endured an intense treatment regimen including major surgeries, multiple rounds of chemotherapy and radiation.
Emily received treatment at Children’s of Alabama and completed therapy in January of 2010. By that time, the Knerr family had moved to the Ross Bridge area. Emily was selected as the 2010 Diggs and Friends Crawfish Boil’s honoree.
“The Crawfish Boil was a high point for us after months of watching our daughter suffer,” said Knerr. “The financial benefit we received also helped us to pay some medical bills during a time that I couldn’t work because I was caring for Emily.”
Today, Emily is cancer-free and currently attends Brock’s Gap Intermediate School. She enjoys spending time with her younger sisters, Anna and Casey, and likes swimming, animals and playing with her friends.
The foundation’s mission
Diggs said starting the foundation sprung from a deep-rooted desire to give back.
“I’ve always been big with philanthropy,” Diggs said. “People want to give, they just don’t always know how.”
The foundation is proud to benefit the Developmental Therapeutics Program. The goal of the program is to study new treatments for childhood cancer and to identify and develop therapies that will improve patient survival and decrease side effects.
Most patients of the program have relapsed or treatment-resistant tumors that have failed standard therapies. Other patients may be diagnosed with unusual tumors for which no effective therapies have been established. They have often suffered through aggressive chemotherapy regimens, radiation treatments and multiple surgeries, only to have the cancer recur.
“This is sometimes the only hope these families have to get their kids back in school,” Knerr said.
The organization also raises money for families of children fighting cancer that are struggling with house payments, meals, etc. Knerr emphasizes that many people may not realize how much people need.
“There are so many out-of-pocket costs you don’t think about,” Knerr said. “Last fall, we paid two years for one family’s rent.”
Finally, the organization works to raise awareness and fund research for doctors to develop new ideas. Knerr said the group is currently working to create middle school junior boards that will help the foundation create awareness within the younger generation.
“It really is important to get that demographic involved,” Diggs said. “We are getting older and they will be the ones to take over the effort.”
Knerr says there are several things that people may not realize, such as September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and only two percent of federal funding goes to childhood cancer.
“Eighty percent of children will be cured, but there is the 20 percent that won’t, and we want to focus on them,” she said.
Crawfish for a cure
The 2015 Hope for Autumn Foundation Crawfish Boil will be held on April 25 on the Main Green of Ross Bridge from 3-9 p.m. Knerr said last year’s event drew more than 2,000 people and they cooked more than 3,000 pounds of crawfish.
There will be live music by Rollin’ in the Hay and Downright, and plenty of activities for children such as bounce houses, face painting and balloon artists. Crawfish will be prepared by Louisiana native John Hein in addition to hamburgers and hot dogs. Soda and water will be provided. Guests are welcome to bring their own adult beverages and tents.
“We want to focus on it being a kid-friendly event,” Diggs said.
Tickets for the event are $30 online and $35 at the door. Children 12 and under are free. All proceeds go to support the foundation’s mission.
For more about the event or the Hope for Autumn Foundation, visit hopeforautumnfoundation.org.