We never know when life is going to change in an instant. Kyle Stefanski is one of five children who grew up with a big happy family in Cleveland, Ohio. Kyle’s mom Rhonda was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2014 and passed away eight short weeks later. Their family was devastated but knew that their mom, Rhonda would want them to do something positive for others. The result and legacy is a nonprofit called, Rhonda’s Kiss. a nonprofit organization that supports cancer patients with the non-medical expenses that come with cancer.
Families experience loss all the time but not all families take their grief and turn it into something positive for others. I am excited to share the story behind Rhonda’s Kiss and more than that, the beautiful legacy that this mother has left her children and all those they serve through their incredible organization. Join me for an inspiring conversation with Rhonda’s son, Kyle Stefanski about his and his family’s work in creating this beautiful legacy in honor of their mom.
Here are a few highlights from our conversation:
Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Rhonda’s Kiss does?
Kyle Stefanski: Rhonda’s Kiss raises money for the non-medical expenses tied to cancer. It’s covering expenses like keeping your lights on, food in your fridge, wigs, childcare, rent, mortgage, and rides to and from the hospital. You see a lot of cancer patients either not going to the hospital because they can’t afford the ride, or stuck at the hospital for hours after their meeting with their doctor. It’s just all these hidden costs that people don’t even think about because they’re just focused on cancer.
Charity Matters: What was the moment you all knew you needed to act and start Rhonda’s Kiss?
Kyle Stefanski: So I think it really came about when the family came together maybe a month or two after my mom passed. We were trying to figure out what happened and trying to say that we needed to turn this into something. So we sat down and said there’s so much money going into cancer. Why not put some money into something that we can actually tangibly feel is affecting people? Once funds are donated, the money goes to that partner hospital, and the social workers immediately start executing grants right away to help these cancer patients.
Charity Matters: This is hard work, running a nonprofit, what fuels you when the days are long and the work is hard?
Kyle Stefanski: How do I keep going? That hospital floor, where my mom passed, at the Cleveland Clinic, has stuck with me so, so deeply, I will never forget that feeling. When I walked away from her after she had taken her last breath, and I just walked by myself through the hallway. I just felt the energies of each room and wanted to remember every piece of it. So that’s a huge piece for me to always, always, always remember.
You don’t have to have it emotionally bring you down, but it will never leave. And so I go to bed, it’s a thought of mine. When I wake up in the morning, it’s the first thought of mine. That is something that I live with, and everything else circles around that.
Charity Matters: Tell us what success you have had?
Kyle Stefanski: In only five years we’ve been able to donate over $1.5 million through all of our partner hospitals. The Cleveland Clinic, Cedar Sinai, and the City of Hope, Cleveland Clinic Florida, and we are coming to New York City this spring. When we started the Cleveland Clinic had only three social workers in their cancer department working with patients. Just three workers. Since we’ve started this program that has grown to 28 social workers and that is just one of our hospitals.
Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?
Kyle Stefanski: Well, this process has taken me on such a spiritual path as well. A lot of it has been opening my eyes because we live in this very capitalistic society. And that’s a big reason why we don’t see the people in front of us and we don’t connect. There is no human condition to really feel because we’re moving so fast and worried about ourselves. And so when you feel that gratitude, our spiritual side of how we’re supposed to be there for others. You realize we’re all in this together.
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