Published March 29, 2021 at 8:31pm.
Story by Kira Woodfield Leeper. Photos by Jan Osborn.
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic this past summer, Jessica Dunn joined Leukemia Texas as the new Executive Director. Leukemia Texas was celebrating its 50th year of service during an uncertain time, but Jessica was up for the challenge.
Jessica has worked in nonprofit administration for the past fifteen years, most recently at LiftFund as their Vice President of Community Engagement and Donor Relations. At the beginning of her career, upon completing her business degree from the University of Oklahoma, Jessica found herself dissatisfied with her job. She had grown up with a strong, resilient, single mother who taught her how to make things happen for herself. She says of her upbringing, “I credit my mom. She taught me how to be self-reliant and that when there were things wrong in the world, we could fight to make them right.” When considering her options, she decided she wanted to be more involved with people and left her job to join AmeriCorps. She completed two weeks of orientation, then on her first day, Hurricane Katrina hit. She was on the ground opening up shelters, distributing food, collecting emergency supplies, and responding to fires. “I fell in love with being on the ground and helping people directly and making a difference in people’s lives.”
Now at Leukemia Texas, Jessica is making a difference in a new way through patient support. Jessica’s step-father died of lung cancer, and she knows first-hand the impact a cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment has on individuals and families in various ways. A diagnosis affects not only health but finances and overall well-being. At Leukemia Texas, patients can find a variety of support. The organization offers patient aid grants aimed to help alleviate costs associated with a diagnosis of Leukemia.
The experience of stepping into a leadership role in the middle of a pandemic, showed Jessica possibilities that would have never existed otherwise. She says, “everything burned to the ground, and now we are asking questions and rebuilding in a smarter way that meets more needs.” Jessica, alongside her team, has found the required creativity to reimagine new ways to support those touched by Leukemia invigorating. The organization has begun to foster new partnerships as families’ needs are changing with the pandemic. They connect people with housing support, food assistance, and other social services as needs are getting more profound and more diverse as the pandemic drags on. Many organizations that usually work independently have rallied to support one another. “It shows how North Texas helps each other,” Jessica says. “It’s an intriguing time for non-profits. We’ve had to pivot everything and rely on one another.”
The pandemic has touched virtually every aspect of everyone’s lives. Patients with devastating diseases are no different. Typically, support during treatment and hospital stays are full of visits and milestone celebrations. With coronavirus visitor restrictions, adult patients are facing these treatments, and hospital stays alone. Pediatric patients can bring with one adult, but adults cannot leave or swap out other relatives. This creates new challenges with stress to caregivers, mental and physical health and creates complex family dynamics as they cannot come and visit family members at home. New challenges such as these have inspired new solutions. Their latest initiative is also a fundraiser called ‘Buddy the Bear.” Named after the organization’s late founder, M.T. “Buddy” Minyard, the miniature stuffed bears can accompany patients through the sometimes-isolating hospital halls.
Leukemia Texas also supports research through an annual average of $100,000 in grant awards for developing research supporting Leukemia treatment and care. Support for patients and their families is more than just financial. Leukemia Texas aims to support the overall well-being of each person touched by this disease. They have leaned into the blessings of virtual gatherings that have also allowed them in a new way to include family members and support from across the globe in the events they host to raise money for patient aid. All of the funds raised through their organization stay local here in Texas.
“I am blessed that every day I get to wake up and love the people I work with. I love what we’re doing, and there’s so much hope. Hope for the people we serve, for everything we’re trying to build this year, and beyond as we transition everything to this new way. That motivates me. It allows me to show my sons…how to help families, and even in this strange year for them, there’s still good out there.”
To learn more about Leukemia Texas and how their work is impacting the community, visit leukemiatexas.org.