As September's Pediatric Cancer Month comes to a close, the nightmare reality of childhood cancer continues. Every 3 minutes somewhere in the world a family hears the words, "Your child has cancer."
Laura Muñoz had a simple goal: she wanted to raise enough money each year to donate a laptop to a children’s oncology unit in memory of her son, Alexander F. Muñoz.
But when the Oceanport family began fundraising, the response was overwhelming.
They have raised about $150,000 for The Alexander Muñoz Memorial Fund at the Princeton Area Community Foundation. Combined with the money they raised and donated to hospitals before opening their fund, the total is more than $250,000.
“This is tremendous to me,” Laura said. “It’s such an honor.”
Alex was a sweet boy – a funny, kind, straight A student, who was enrolled in honors classes, volunteered at the local hospital, Monmouth Medical Center, and hoped to one day become a pediatrician. A student at Shore Regional High School and member of the All-Shore Band, he was a piano player turned drummer, because drumming sounded more fun. He was the middle child who was super-tight with his two brothers, Raymond and William, and close with his parents.
He was 15 when he began getting daily headaches. Doctors diagnosed him with a malignant brain tumor, but said it was curable. The treatment was aggressive, and it was grueling – proton therapy, radiation, and chemotherapy. A week before his last chemo session, Alex and his family learned the cancer had returned to his spine.
Before his death in 2014 – nine days before his 17th birthday — Alex told his parents he wanted to help other teens fighting the disease. More research dollars should be earmarked for childhood cancers, he thought. And, pediatric oncology wards had toys for young children, but were not well-equipped for kids his age – kids who understood what a cancer diagnosis meant. He wanted to change that.
His parents made it their mission to honor his wishes. Laura, an elementary school teacher in Hazlet, researched fundraising options. Instead of creating a private foundation, she and her husband, Fabrizio, decided to open a fund at the Princeton Area Community Foundation because it had a 4-star rating on Charity Navigator, and could meet their charitable needs.
Had they created their own foundation, they would have faced greater administrative burdens and costs. Working with the Community Foundation allows the family to fully focus on philanthropy and helping young cancer patients, instead of focusing on running a foundation. Donations are sent to The Alexander Muñoz Memorial Fund at the Princeton Area Community Foundation, whose staff handles all the paperwork. Then the family recommends grants and supports an annual scholarship awarded in Alex’s memory to a graduating Shore Regional senior.
“I really liked the idea of having a partnership with a well-run foundation,” she said. “It just seemed to be ultimately the most responsible thing for us to do.”
The fund has made grants to the Children’s Brain Tumor Tissue Consortium and the Emergency Oncology Fund, both at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and the Teen Cancer Fund at Jersey Shore University Medical Center. At the age of 52, Fabrizio trained for nine months, and with some friends, competed in the New York City Triathlon to raise $22,000 in memory of Alex. One of the CHOP social workers also took part in the 1.5k swim-40k bike-10k run, because she wanted to honor Alex’s wishes to help other kids.
“I didn’t think we could do 1/100 of this, but people have been really generous,” Laura said. “Alex never complained. He never complained. I complained. The only thing Alex asked for was to help other teens. He wanted them to feel special – they understand what they are going through. So all of this has really been extraordinary. I’m very proud of him. He accomplished more than most people in a lifetime in the way he showed people to be brave and grateful.”
For more information about the Princeton Area Community Foundation, visit PACF.org For more information on The Alex Munoz Foundation visit on Facebook The Champ's Corner - The Alexander Muñoz Memorial Fund click here.