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In Jaimie's honor: Nonprofit helps family with childhood cancer

Jaimie Senger

A year after her daughter's death, Carolyn Reller's dream to honor her memory by helping other families experiencing childhood cancer is a reality.

The nonprofit organization formed in memory of 18-year-old Brainerd High School graduate Jaimie Senger, who died one year ago today from complications associated with leukemia, offered its first grant to a local family in need this week. Its board of directors voted unanimously to offer $500 in gift cards to cover the costs of winter clothing, groceries and other household items. Any family in Minnesota is eligible to apply for assistance from the organization.

To be able to offer this to the families of childhood cancer patients is important to Reller and her husband Grant Reller, who experienced hardship themselves over the years of Jaimie's cancer treatments.

Jaimie was first diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia at age 14. After three years of treatments, she was declared cancer-free in September 2014—only to develop a different type of leukemia eight months later.

This type—acute myeloid leukemia—was a secondary cancer, one Jaimie likely developed as a result of chemotherapy drugs taken to eliminate the first type.

Jaimie spent her summer of 2015 in the hospital receiving cancer treatments, and in August, received a stem cell transplant. Two weeks after the transplant, a preliminary biopsy showed no indication of leukemia in Jaimie's bone marrow, which had been replaced successfully by the donor cells.

Just before Jaimie's planned move to a Ronald McDonald House near the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital, she began to have trouble breathing. Doctors diagnosed the teen with idiopathic pneumonia syndrome, a condition affecting 6 percent of youth stem cell transplant patients.

Nearly a month later, after various attempts by doctors to treat the condition about which little is known, Jaimie lost her life.

"It certainly is expensive, whether you have medical needs, gasoline to drive back and forth to the Cities every time, groceries," Carolyn Reller said. "If you have a family who one of the parents can't work possibly, or can only work part time. ... We realize how expensive all of that is, and we were fortunate to work with some organizations that provided us some gas cards and we just wanted to give back, in honor and memory of Jaimie."

When the idea of the foundation was born, the goal was just this simple: to pay forward the help Jaimie's family received themselves. The group of family and friends that ended up forming the board of directors for Jaimie's Purse soon learned forming a nonprofit organization is more complex than the mission. Beyond the Rellers, the board consists of Jaimie's grandmother Beverly White and family friends Jenel Boller, Chuck Cogger and Helen Eide.

In late September, the group met on a Monday night at its donated meeting space, the Brainerd American Legion Post 255. They listened as a friend versed in grant writing, Shannon Fortune, explained in detail how to ask organizations large and small for donations. Jaimie's Purse recently acquired its 501(c)(3) status, completed its first major fundraising event with the Pink Links for Cancer organization and has a functioning website and social media presence. But the board agreed there's a lot about the nonprofit world they're learning as they go along.

"We basically woke up one day wiping away our tears, saying we want to make a difference," Cogger said. "How are we going to do it? Give away some gift cards. And as we get working through the process, it's like 'Oh my God, we need to do this, and we need to do that.' ... It is so much more work than I would have ever imagined."

Despite the learning curve, the organization's leaders are ambitious. They are sponsoring a Nov. 26 spaghetti dinner at the Brainerd American Legion for two local families experiencing childhood cancer and have a Traveling Art Pub event planned in January, the proceeds of which will benefit Jaimie's Purse. The event will feature a personalized design of one of Jaimie's favorites, a dragonfly. A 5K event is on the wish list, along with a push to gather sponsorships and willing volunteers. T-shirts will soon be for sale on the organization's website.

For those who loved Jaimie, it's all worth it.

"I hate the reason that this was ever formed, but we love to be able to help anybody," Eide said.

"Jaimie's smiling down," White added.

How to donate or apply

Interested in helping Jaimie's Purse assist local families experiencing childhood cancer?

• Visit www.jaimiespurse.org/donate to donate funds through a secure PayPal link.

• Mail a donation to Jaimie's Purse, 14646 Lynnwood Drive, Baxter, MN 56425.

• Follow Jaimie's Purse on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jaimiespurse for information on upcoming events.

• Email info@jaimiespurse.org or call 218-330-7994 for more information or to volunteer.

• An application for assistance is available through a link on the group's Facebook page and on the organization's website.

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