Phil's Day 2012: Early Lessons in Philanthropy at the UI


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At an early age, I experienced firsthand the impact that donors to the University of Iowa can have on people's lives. When I was 12, I was diagnosed with stage-four cancer by physicians at University of Iowa Children's Hospital. Between surgeries and subsequent chemotherapy treatments, I spent a good portion of the next year as an inpatient at the Children's Hospital.

Many aspects of cancer treatment are uncomfortable — and several are downright painful. It was during those most painful treatments and procedures that I grew familiar with, and came to rely upon, the Children's Hospital's child-life specialists. These specialists are professionals who are trained to collaborate with parents, family members, and other health-care workers in meeting the unique emotional and developmental needs of children who are in a hospital setting.

For me, working with a child-life specialist meant that someone was there to hold the wand while I fiercely blew bubbles during an unbearably painful bone-marrow biopsy. Someone encouraged me to draw what I envisioned my cancer to look like — and how it looked to have my "chemo warriors" defeat that cancer. And someone role-played with me in preparation for telling my classmates why I was bald.

I learned that child-life specialists often rely on the generosity of donors to keep them stocked with the tools of their trade — bubbles, crayons, hand-held games, and character Band-Aids. As a young patient who directly benefited from such generosity, I knew that I wanted to give back in thanks for all that had been given to me.

Once my cancer went into remission, I worked with my best friend to organize dances in my hometown of Garner, Iowa, to raise money for the Children's Hospital. And when I arrived on the UI campus as a freshman in 1994, I got involved in a brand-new organization: Dance Marathon.

Throughout my four years of college, I had the opportunity to serve on Dance Marathon's executive council and to participate in — at the grass-roots level — an organization that would become a fundraising powerhouse right here on our own campus.

These experiences laid the groundwork for me to pursue a career in fundraising, and I currently am the assistant vice president for health-sciences development at the UI Foundation. As the chief development officer for the Children's Hospital, I spend each day talking about the power of private support. I listen to people's stories of health-care challenges that they or their family members have faced — and I help them explore their aspirations for giving back and changing lives.

Generosity comes in packages both large and small, and at the Children's Hospital, gifts of all sizes make a difference. I have seen gifts that range from a $10 million commitment from Jerre and Mary Joy Stead of Scottsdale, Ariz., to support the faculty, staff, and programs at the Children's Hospital to a $5 million pledge from Dance Marathon to help build a new Children's Hospital to gifts made in honor of a pediatric patient whose family and friends wanted to celebrate the end of his chemotherapy regimen and ensure that child-life specialists would have a new supply of "tools" to help even more children.

Each one of these gifts is special — and each one takes me back 25 years and reminds me of my very first lessons in philanthropy.

Sheila Baldwin
UI Foundation

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