What began as a Chanhassen family’s commitment to their child has grown into a national organization. It comes as no surprise to the Chepokases. “I always believed in my heart of hearts it would [grow],” Becky Chepokas says.
The Pinky Swear Foundation (formerly Miracles of Mitch) has at its heart the Chepokases’ son, Mitch, who passed away in 2003 from osteosarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer. Only 9 years old when he was diagnosed in 2002, Mitch made it his mission early on to help other children battling cancer bear the financial burden of staggering medical and associated costs.
He cleared out his savings account of $6,000 to help kids on the pediatric oncology floor at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital. Room by room, Mitch and his dad left envelopes of money, signed, “Love Mitch. XOXOXO.”
Mitch had more to give—he made a pinky swear promise with his dad to continue, even after Mitch’s death, to assist children with cancer and their families.
Since its inception, the foundation has offered families financial support to meet a variety of needs including rent and mortgage payments; car payments, repairs and gas cards; groceries; payments for utilities and other basic needs; family getaways or other worry-free time away from a medical setting; and expenses of staying in the hospital with the ill child.
More than 500 families living in nearly 40 states around the country are helped annually by the foundation. While Pinky Swear continues to assist other families, it has also served as salve for part of Becky’s grief. “As Mitch’s mom, it’s a more spiritual response,” she says of the foundation’s success, adding it provides some measure of peace and thankfulness. “To my heavenly Father, ‘You really had a plan for his life,’” she says.
That peace and gratitude gives Becky the motivation to continue serving on the foundation’s board, but she is also moved by the appreciation from receiving families. On average, each family receives $750 in grants.
The Pinky Swear Foundation continues to find new ways to reach out to families facing pediatric cancer. Launching at the end of the year, the Orange Envelope Program will address families with children who have recently been diagnosed with cancer. Recipients (identified through a medical network) will receive a package with information about Pinky Swear’s services, a gift card and a letter from Becky and Steve Chepokas.
According to an online survey by the American Childhood Cancer Organization, the average age of a cancer diagnosis is 6 years old, and the average length of treatment is two years. During that time, the average family will spend 25 percent of its disposable income on non-medical-related expenses that are related to the child’s treatment. In addition, one in 11 families that include a child with cancer files for bankruptcy.
Since 2003, the Pinky Swear Foundation has raised $11 million dollars, with 70 percent of each dollar going to support the foundation’s programs and direct aid to families. Fundraising events, which are tailored around Mitch’s quirky personality, according to Chepokas, include kid triathlons, clay shooting and rollercoaster rides.
Chepokas is drawn to action by thinking of families that receive life-changing medical diagnoses. “I just think of the lives that will change today of families who will hear their child has cancer,” she says.
Buy a Beanie
Co-branded Love Your Melon/Pinky Swear beanies are available November 25–December 9 at a pop-up shop in Macy’s courtyard at the Mall of America. Beanies are $30 each, and a portion of the proceeds go to the Pinky Swear Foundation. Love Your Melon is dedicated to giving a hat to every child battling cancer, as well as supporting nonprofit organizations fighting pediatric cancer like Pinky Swear.