BURRILLVILLE – It’s a growing and successful pay-it-forward mission, which began six years ago after the same rare and tragic diagnosis affected two local families at nearly the same time.
Teresa and Jim Gaudet, who at the time lived in Blackstone, Mass. started the nonprofit Cory’s Crusaders in 2013 after a rare form of brain cancer – Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma, or DIPG – took the life of their 18-year-old son Cory Gaudet. The Gaudets hoped to help other local families with children battling the disease by providing funding for things such as life expenses and costly trips to the emergency room.
But the fatal illness, which is so uncommon that many doctors have never seen it, had also struck a Harrisville home.
Tim and Aimee Mandeville lost their 11-year-old son Evan Mandeville to DIPG in November of 2012, just months after Gaudet’s death. Both boys had lost their battle against inoperable and terminal brain tumors, through a disease with no cure and limited treatments.
The Mandevilles established the Evan T. Mandeville DIPG Research Fund at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in their son’s memory, hoping to help finance a cure.
The two families, united by strikingly similar tragedies, have found success in their fight against DIPG, and came together again this week for a Winter Gala at Bella’s Restaurant that raised some $9,000.
Cory’s Crusaders put on the ball, and around 170 guests purchased tickets, enjoying an evening of raffles, food and dancing for the cause.
“It was it really great event,” Teresa told NRI NOW, noting that it is the second year the organization holds the gala at the restaurant. Bella, she said, helped out by offering meals at a discounted cost, donating the proceeds of a specialty drink in Cory’s honor, and providing a door prize in the form of a $100 gift certificate.
“They absolutely were wonderful,” Teresa said. “They go above and beyond for us. They’re a family-run business and we’re a family-run organization, and they said they want to do as much as they can to help organizations like ours because they would never want to be in the situation.”
Plus, Teresa noted, “Their waitstaff is exceptional and the food is delicious.”
The $9,000 – counted after expenses were paid – was raised through gala tickets and the raffle of some 24 donated prizes, including signed New England Patriots jerseys and gift baskets.
The event was just the latest success in a growing crusade to fight back by local families affected by the disease.
“I think what has surprised us is how often it happens around you,” Jim said.
Several families that the organization has assisted financially have since joined the mission.
“We supported them and they saw how important that was,” said Teresa.
Just this week, a couple from Brooklyn, Conn. handed the organization a check for $4,000 from a Christmas lighting event they’ve held at their home for the past two years.
“We helped a child that was in their community,” Teresa said.
At events like the gala, many guests purchase tables or seats in memory of loved ones they’ve lost.
And as the families and friends of those affected come together, the funds are adding up.
Since its inception, Cory’s Crusaders has helped 215 families with more than $255,000 in financial assistance and has given away $9,000 in scholarships to local students.
They’ve also raised $85,000 for the Mandeville’s cause, a research fund that has contributed some $775,000 to Dana Farber. There, doctors have made progress in their study of DIPG, and the Burrillville family’s fund is currently financing a new clinical trial.
Jim notes that it’s extremely rare for two families in such close proximity to get the diagnosis. The Gaudets have moved to Harrisville, and the two families have stayed close, attending each others’ annual fundraisers.
On August 19, the Gaudets hope to be back in Burrillville for a charity golf tournament on the anniversary of their son’s passing.
Their largest event, an annual 5k road race schedule for May 5 this year, typically brings in around $50,000.
The money has allowed the organization to meet a goal they set out when they started six years ago of providing $5,000 each month to a family in need. At the time, they note, the plan seemed ambitious.
The effort is summed up in the organization’s motto, inspired by their son during his courageous battle with the disease: “Never Give Up.”
“What we set out to do is to make the day in the life of a family battling brain cancer better,” said Jim. “Our goal is to help people.”
To donate to Cory’s Crusader’s or learn how you can take part in one of their upcoming events, visit coryscrusaders.org
To learn more about the Mandeville’s research fund visit evanscrew.org
Editor’s note: Writer Sandy Seoane works part-time as a server at Bella’s Restaurant.