We welcome Matt Gerson, Founder and Chairman of Tracy’s Kids to our 7 Questions Blog. Tracy’s Kids helps young cancer patients and their families cope with the emotional stress and trauma of cancer and its treatment and is brand new to the Catalogue as part of the 2015-16 class. Under Matt Gerson’s leadership, Tracy’s Kids has grown from one therapist at Georgetown University Hospital’s Lombardi Cancer Center to the much larger organization it is today.
- What motivated you to begin working with your organization?
I was diagnosed with cancer when I was ten years old– 47 years ago. I remember that battling the disease was lonely and scary and emotionally grueling. Tracy’s Kids uses Art Therapy to enable the children we serve to engage with Masters-trained professionals who help them express their fears and better understand this impossibly difficult chapter of their lives.
- Who inspires you (in the philanthropy world or otherwise)? Do you have a hero?
My heroes are our eight dedicated Art Therapists (“ATs”) who bring compassion and professionalism to their work every day. They see a lot of sadness but generate smiles, comfort and confidence. For years parents have told me that their kids look forward to going to the clinic which I find inconceivable. But it’s because our ATs enable them to feel like themselves: not like sick kids, just kids.
- What was your most interesting recent project/partnership?
Our program director, Tracy Councill, is always encouraging our team of Art Therapists to try new ways to make the clinic more fun and inviting. The past couple of years they’ve made music videos including one to Pharrell’s song, Happy, that had the whole clinic — nurses, docs, kids and parents — lip syncing and dancing. But my favorite was to Andy Grammers, Keep Your Head Up. The lyrics could not be more appropriate and became something of an anthem — You got to keep your head up. This is just a journey, drop your worries, you are gonna turn out fine.
- What exciting change or innovation is on your mind?
We make a special effort to work with the siblings of the children that we serve. A cancer diagnosis traumatizes the entire family, and we appreciate that the healthy sibling is scared for her brother, confused by the treatment regime and wrestles with emotions that should be shared with a trained professional. We even established a focused summer program at Children’s Hospital called Scribbling Siblings.
- What is the single greatest challenge that your organization faces (besides finances) and how are you dealing with this challenge?
Sadness. Today, over 70% of the children diagnosed with cancer will beat the disease. But parents still lose children, and brothers lose sisters. This Fall a remarkable 16 year old lost her battle with osteosarcoma. Abby used Art Therapy to cope with her prognosis and create a legacy of artwork for her family and friends. Her mother told me that Tracy’s Kids was invaluable to her daughter and that the family wants to work with us so they can positively impact the lives of others. This kind of feedback enables us to deal with the heartache because it validates our efforts to help children and their families cope with the psychological toll imposed by the disease and its treatment.
- What advice do you have for other people in your position?
Just Do It. There are innumerable good causes. Find one that excites you and give it your best shot. Don’t be afraid to ask for financial support, and don’t talk it personally when you get turned down or someone doesn’t deliver.
- What’s next/coming up for you?
Tracy’s Kids is in three clinics in the DC area and one in San Antonio, Texas. We joined New York Presbyterian Hospital in October and are exploring a partnership with a hospital in Baltimore. Other clinics have asked us to bring our program to their facility and if we have the resources we can go anywhere to make a real difference in the lives of children in a harrowing position.