Life is serendipitous, As most of you know, I no longer believe in coincidences. A few months back we asked all of our InstagraBumblm followers to send us their favorite nonprofits. One of the many on the list was an organization called The BumbleBee Foundation. I put it on a list and when we got back from vacation, I decided to reach out to Heather Donatini to set up an interview. We had an incredible conversation about their family’s recent move and the loss of their young son, Jarren. One I think we were destined to have.
Join us today to listen to the heartwarming conversation with Heather Donatini, aka Queen Bee of the BumbleBee Foundation. Heather and her husband Jason, established the Bumblebee Foundation in 2011 in memory of their son Jarren who was diagnosed with rare liver cancer at the age of three. Their mission is to inspire hope, faith, and the overall well-being of pediatric cancer families.
Here are a few highlights from our conversation:
Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what The Bumble Bee Foundation does?
Heather Donatini: Bumblebee exists to support other pediatric cancer families fighting the same battle that our family fought. And we do that through six programs with our largest being our patient aid program. The patient aid program provides financial support for families and can literally be anything that is going to lighten the load for a family. Sometimes it’s just utility payments or a gift card for a cup of coffee. A cup of caffeine is a mighty thing in the hands of a very tired parent. We do anything from that on up to help with rent and mortgage assistance. In between, we do whatever it is that’s going to make the journey a little bit easier for our families. That is what we strive to do.
Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start your organization?
Heather Donatini: We watched her son fight for 18 months for his life. These children are my heroes because they’re always smiling and they have the best attitude ever. When our son Jarren took his final breath, honestly, is when my husband Jason and I knew the exact moment that we needed to do something. We knew that Jarren’s life was not in vain and that we were honored to have been chosen to be his parents. Even if he was only going to be here for four and a half years.
There were other families lying in the hospital beds of the place that we had just left that we’re still fighting. We wanted to do this not just for them but for the ones that were to come. The ones that were diagnosed that we didn’t know about yet. We had tremendous support from our community and we saw other kiddos that did not have that same support. And we wanted to build Bumblebee to be a gap to fill that support for these families that were fighting and just like us.
Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?
Heather Donatini: When we started Bumblebee, I didn’t have experience in a nonprofit. Most of us don’t choose this but somehow know that this is what we were supposed to do. As you said, we kept getting these signs along the way. Somebody had once told me that skills can be built, but passion cannot. Those of us that are in the nonprofit field, truly understand that. I can take classes, to figure things out to learn things that I need to know. We lead with passion and 100% once I kind of got out of my own way and realized it was going to be okay.
Charity Matters: Tell us what success you have had? What has your impact been?
Heather Donatini: You know, we don’t always have measurable outcomes. So even though The Bumblebee Foundation has over 350 active families that we’re serving throughout the state of California, a lot of times, our impact is simply in the voice on the other end of a line of a mama who you just told that you paid their mortgage for them. Or, Bumblebee just saved them from eviction, or just put brand new tires on their vehicle so that they can get their child back and forth to treatment.
Those are things that hit when a family is diagnosed, that you don’t think about even just something as simple as a meal voucher or a parking voucher, right? A family could be making ends meat and doing just fine. Then all of a sudden, your child is diagnosed with cancer, and you have all these unexpected expenses, like paying for parking at a hospital. One of my most favorite memories is we were able to purchase a used vehicle for a family who was taking public transportation for treatment. Those are the kinds of impacts that Bumblebee strives to make.
Charity Matters: If you could dream any dream for your organization, what would that be?
Heather Donatini: Our ultimate goal is one day to have beehives all across the country. We call our supporters, our beehive because they are part of this organization. As a whole, they create that for our Bumblebee kiddos. Our main headquarters is based in Westlake Village, California. I would love to have that continue being our main beehive with beehives all throughout the states eventually.
Charity Matters: What life lessons have you learned from this experience?
Heather Donatini: So many life lessons, I can sum it up in one word and that one word is trust. Trust the process, trust the journey. Trust has been the one thing that resonates the most with me since the day that Jarren was diagnosed.
Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?
Heather Donatini: My heart, my eyes, my everything has changed. Going through something like that you cannot come away unscathed or unchanged. You learn to love more, you learn to accept more and you learn to see the beauty in a situation that people may not see beauty in. These cancer families are my everything. Making these connections with them and making things easier for them is such an honor. For me, as Jarren’s Mom, I get to honor the memory of my son. I get to do that because of the support from our beehive that allows me that gift to serve.
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