Winter Park resident Terri Jones has spent most of her life making a positive impact on the lives of others. Her compassion and dedication helped call others to service and resulted in the BASE Camp Children’s Cancer Foundation.
“I grew up volunteering,” she said of her childhood in Mississippi. “My mother was an American Legion Auxiliary volunteer and a school mom. I was a Girl Scout. We always collected food and helped out where we could.”
Jones moved to Central Florida in 1980 and began volunteering at fundraising events for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. She went full-time with the organization as an administrative assistant in the spring of 1982, becoming the first point of contact for patients and family members. Hearing their stories gave her a new perspective on ways to help.
“We had a patient aid program and some support groups, but most of the people I talked to were crying and just beside themselves,” she said. “I felt that people who had cancer just needed more joy in their lives.”
She started by reaching out to Walt Disney World to arrange free tickets for patients and families. She went on to organize social events and day camps for kids with cancer. She organized lunch deliveries to local cancer hospitals for parents staying with their children. A $25 snack budget and parties hosted at her home grew into partnerships with local businesses for food, hotel nights and funding.
Her efforts became the basis for a foundation that bears the acronym of its credo:
- Believe every child deserves a childhood
- Achieve the impossible every day
- Support patients and families
- Educate the public so they can help
Ten years after Jones acquired the first theme park tickets, BASE Camp Children’s Cancer Foundation incorporated as a nonprofit in 1992. Approximately $300K in cash donations were raised in the past year with in-kind donations from Central Florida businesses amounting to $200K. They have been based in Winter Park since the late 1990’s and moved into their current office on Wymore Road in 2013.
Here, Jones discusses inspirations, goals, and BASE Camp’s unique place in the local family support system:
What makes BASE Camp different from other organizations like Give Kids The World Village and Make-A-Wish Foundation?
We love and admire them and the things they can do, and we’ve partnered with them on a couple of occasions, but it’s like we’re separate entities. Their reach is much broader than ours and the things they offer are literally a once in a lifetime. We have kids who have multiple occurrences of cancer, but they already received their once in a lifetime wish. We’re giving multiple wishes and parents’ wishes, day camps, parties, and lunches. Nobody’s doing what we’re doing as often as we do it.
Was there a specific moment that changed your perspective on serving kids and families?
There’s a national cancer support group called Candlelighters, and Leukemia & Lymphoma Society established a local chapter in 1983. One of the parents knew somebody at SeaWorld and he was able to get 50 tickets. I knew somebody at Albertsons, and I got some chicken and coleslaw. SeaWorld gave us a pavilion, and instead of having parents come to a support group we had 10 families come out and had a joyful day. That was my true ‘aha’ moment. That’s when I knew this is what we had to keep doing.
Is there someone you’ve met on your journey who particularly inspired you?
I actually changed my title to co-founder because I have had hundreds of children and parents who inspired me to create a program or event. But there was a 16-year-old boy named John Lovejoy who was being treated at the, then, Florida Hospital Adult Cancer Unit. He thought he was the only kid with cancer because he was constantly surrounded by older people and when his mother found our Candlelighters support group, and he met all these other kids with cancer, it changed his journey. His outlook and his attitude were amazing. He asked me if I would take the teenagers out without their parents, just to hang out together. We created a spinoff group, called Starlighters, in 1986 and we all went out, once a month. I would find a pizza place or a bowling alley or a movie theater, to let that age group hang out together.
How did COVID-19 affect the programs and how are things going now?
COVID stopped us in our tracks. At first, nobody wanted anything, now we’re giving the parents what they tell us they’re comfortable with. We have three full-time staff people and a part-time program coordinator, and we all made the personal commitment to get vaccinated. We realized that was important for us, serving an immunocompromised population. In July of 2021 we tried day camps again for one family per day. We ended up with about 10 families that each chose two to four days over a 30-day period. And of course, we cleaned everything after each day. We tried some outdoor events; we did an outdoor Santa visit. And we’re back to lunch deliveries and visiting hospitals because we’re masked, vaccinated volunteers.
After 40 years of service, is there a special benchmark you are setting for yourself or the organization to meet in the future?
I’m trying to retire. Apparently, I started doing this when I was 25. But I want to raise a million dollars. In fact, I keep saying there’s a $10 million renaming on the table. If somebody would donate $10 million, we would rename the organization. But our development plan is to try to find a thousand people every year who will donate $1,000 – $84 a month on an ongoing basis. We do something, usually in September, called Conquer the Climb where we look for those donors. We need to get better about asking all the time, but we are so busy delivering the programs that sometimes we don’t have the time to go ask for money.
For more information on BASE Camp programs, volunteer opportunities, and ways to donate, go to BASECamp.org.
If you know a Winter Park resident who contributes to the community, and has an interesting story, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.