West Raleigh Baseball Association boosts kids, charity

By Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. — Eighty people, mainly children, helped raise over $30,000 last May to support cancer programs and research by shaving their heads.

The event, for the Vs. Cancer Foundation, was sponsored by the West Raleigh Baseball Association, a nonprofit spun off in the early 1990s from the West Raleigh Exchange Club.

Growing out of a youth baseball league the Club established in 1958 to help advance its mission of providing “service to family, community and country,” the Association serves over 800 children ages four to 14 through a baseball program each spring and fall.

The League operates with an annual budget of roughly $300,000, a full-time operations director and part-time bookkeeper, and nearly 100 volunteers, and generates all its revenue from registration fees and raffles.

The Association holds all its games on three fields at Exchange Club Park in West Raleigh, and pays rent to the Exchange Club to use those fields for games and practices, and to the city of Raleigh and the town of Cary to use their fields for practices.

The Association also supports charitable causes through volunteering and donations from dollars its raises at special events, says Gary Feder, president of the Association and general counsel at Lulu Press, a self-publishing company in Raleigh.

For many years, the Association raised nearly $10,000, mainly in in-kind support, to collect and prepare food for charities.

But this year, the group decided to step up its fundraising.

It teamed up with the Raleigh-based Vs. Cancer Foundation, which was created by Chase Jones, who as a freshman member of the varsity baseball team at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was diagnosed with Stage IV brain cancer.

“The best part,” Feder says, was that the children returned to school after the event and had to explain why their heads were shaved.

“It started influencing teachers and friends and families, creating more awareness for kids with cancer,” he says.

The Foundation has divided the funds the Association raised between Duke Children’s Hospital, which will use the funds to buy iPads and computer games to improve the quality of life for kids undergoing chemotherapy, and for national research efforts.

In addition to its event for the Vs. Cancer Foundation, the Association for about 10 years has worked with the Exchange Club to deliver meals to the pediatric bone marrow transplant unit at the Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center.

One or two Sundays a month, 12 families from the Association each create a large dish and bring it to the Exchange Club, with Club members then delivering the dishes for use by family members staying with their children who are patients in the transplant unit.

The Association also holds two food drives a year to benefit Urban Ministries of  Wake County.

This spring, its drive generated 3,000 pounds of food worth over $6,000.

“As an organization, we want to be able to give back to the community,” Feder says. “Our kids are fortunate to be part of a great program. We’re an affluent community. We want our kids to learn more about life through baseball as well as giving to others.”

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Cancer survivor enlists athletes to shave heads

By Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. — Chase Jones loves baseball.

But his childhood dream of playing in the major leagues or coaching in college was shattered the fall of his freshman year at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Pounding headaches sent him from varsity baseball practice to Campus Health Services, where he got a CAT scan and bioposy that found a tumor the size of a golf ball at the top of his brain stem that was blocking the flow of spinal fluid and causing the headaches.

He was diagnosed with Stage IV brain cancer, underwent surgery to remove the fluid, and then five rounds of chemotherapy.

During the treatment, which caused him to lose his hair and 20 pounds, his life changed.

Feeling frustrated and negative about life, he says, he had an insight when he saw young children nearby who also were receiving treatment.

“I got to go to the prom and college,” says Jones, whose cancer is in remission. “These kids didn’t know anything outside the hospital. For me to complain did injustice to those kids who were battling every day with smiles on their faces.”

So in the spring of 2010, after taking a year off for his treatment and returning to school the following fall, he persuaded his teammates, coaches, managers and trainers, a group of  about 50 people, to shave their heads to raise money for the pediatric oncology program at UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The event, dubbed BaseBald at UNC, raised $5,400, and a similar event a year later raised over $14,000, an effort that landed Jones the Outstanding Youth in Philanthropy Award last year from the Triangle chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

After graduating in 2011, Jones pitched the idea to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, which raises money through head-shaving events to benefit kids with cancer.

Jones joined the Foundation just over a year ago as BaseBald and family relations coordinator, and last year helped raised over $375,000 through 40 head-shaving events by high school, college, minor league and youth baseball teams in 14 states.

“Both my doctors that treated me at UNC were funded by St. Baldrick’s,” he says. “Somebody shaved their head before me, and I’m here because of it.”

In the Triangle, teams that have participated in BaseBald include those at UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. State University; Orange, Cedar Ridge, East Chapel Hill and Chapel Hill high schools; and North Wake Baseball in Wake Forest.

Now, Jones has formed his own charity, the Vs. Cancer Foundation, which has the mission of “saving kids’ lives by empowering athletes and communities to fund lifesaving childhood cancer efforts.”

“No one is going and actively seeking athletes,” he says, “and introducing them to the idea that as student and professional athletes, they themselves can directly make an impact on a child who’s battling cancer.”