A mother's selflessness inspires Riley social work fund
The course of Jeff Binder’s life was altered dramatically when he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma at age 12.
Jeff underwent several years of treatment, traveling from his New Jersey home to Columbia University in New York City. Some of his chemotherapy appointments took place at a public clinic in a low-income neighborhood, and Binder soon realized his fellow patients were dealing with more than just cancer.
“Over those few years I was treated, my mom started volunteering in the clinic and got to know the stories of these families who were dealing with not only the clinical issues of childhood cancer, but also economic issues,” Binder said.
Binder’s mom, Myrna, impressed upon him that although his cancer diagnosis was a hardship and difficult for the entire family, they also had a great deal for which to be grateful. Many families who receive a cancer diagnosis are facing not only a huge challenge in terms of health, but a huge challenge economically as well.
“That hit home with me,” said Binder. “I always had in the back of my mind that if I was able to later in life, I would love to figure out a way to help with that problem.”
Fast forward nearly 30 years to 2008. Binder had recently become CEO of Biomet in Warsaw, Ind., and met Riley pediatric orthopedic oncology surgeon Daniel Wurtz.
“I said, ‘I’ve always had this idea of wanting to establish a fund to help the families of kids with cancer,’” Binder remembers. That led to a connection with Riley Children’s Foundation, and Binder was introduced to some of the social workers on the cancer floor.
From there, Moppie’s Love Fund was born. Named in honor of Binder’s childhood nickname for Myrna, the fund allows Riley’s social work team to deploy immediate resources to help families of Riley patients. It might mean paying a utility bill so electricity isn’t shut off, covering car repairs so a family can drive back and forth to Riley or paying for air duct and carpet cleaning after a child receives stem cell treatment. The fund has helped with food assistance, rent and even burial costs.
“The idea was simple,” Binder said. “If there is an acute issue, especially one that is interfering with treatment, let’s resolve the issue for the family.”
Binder worked with Andy Harner, who is now clinical manager of social work at Riley Hospital, to develop protocols for the fund. He did not want lots of red tape and restrictions; gifts from Moppie’s Love Fund needed to be fast and flexible.
“We put the decision-making power into the hands of the people closest to the situation,” Binder said of the social workers. “Everything is about to fall apart, and this gift helps relieve stress on a family at a very difficult and delicate moment.”
Social workers are an essential part of Riley’s integrated care management team and work with the medical teams on every unit at the hospital. They help ensure patients and their families have access to the care, support and services they need while in the hospital and returning home.
“The work the social workers do is underappreciated by a lot of people,” Binder said. “They do a remarkable job of taking a little and turning it into a lot for these families.”
A gift from Moppie’s Love Fund can help a family from falling off the economic edge and allow social workers to muster the resources to help on a longer-term basis.
Binder believes strongly in the impact social workers can have on Riley families and wants to encourage others to support their efforts, as well. That’s why, with 300 donations to Riley’s social work program, Jeff will donate $100,000 for Riley kids and their families.
“It’s always been my goal to start the ball rolling on these kinds of programs,” he said. “Once we prove the concept works, we can ask others to donate as well.”
Moppie’s Love Fund has expanded over the years to assist all Riley families, not just those dealing with cancer. Binder also developed a partnership with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) and provided the seed money for a similar program at the national level.
“It’s incredibly gratifying,” Binder said. “Between what we’re doing at Riley and LLS, we help over 1,000 families a year.”
Through Moppie’s Love Fund, Binder is able to make a difference for Riley’s most vulnerable families. And it all goes back to Myrna, who inspired her son with her selflessness and volunteer work.
“I think it takes a special person to choose to be involved, even as their own child is going through treatment, to give back and help other families navigate cancer,” Binder said of his mom, who is now 80 and lives in New Jersey.
“It’s a wonderful blessing to be able to use the hard things that have happened in one’s life, to twist them and use them as fodder for making things better for others,” he said.
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