HIGHLAND TOWNSHIP, MI — On the second floor of LaFontaine automotive in Highland Township, Michigan, a special assembly line is dressing up more than 650 stuffed bears that will be given out to cancer patients in hospitals across the state, including Lansing’s Sparrow Hospital. The gifts are being prepared just in time for valentine’s day.
The stuffed bear giveaway is just one of the touchpoints for the U-Can-Cer Vive Foundation, founded by siblings Kelly and Ryan LaFontaine. Kelly says they started the foundation to give back.
“We've been impacted by cancer. What we felt got us through was a sense of hope," Kelly said. "And we wanted to make sure that we took the time to give others that sense of hope. And we brainstormed and said, how can we do that? How can we make a difference and make that impact in somebody else's life? We wanted to do that because, for us, it was the hardest journey ever.”
Since starting U-Can-Cer Vive Foundation in 2016, Kelly, her brother Ryan, and a large group of volunteers have been actively reaching out to cancer patients and their families. They not only give out stuffed bears each year on Valentine’s Day, but they also help provide vital funding and support for local cancer research grants.
The group has raised more than $3-million for cancer research, and Kelly says every dollar raised stays in the state of Michigan.
“We have one grant at Henry Ford for pancreatic cancer, that's a half a million dollars," said LaFontaine. "We have millions of dollars at U of M, we have given money to the Karmanos Cancer Center; We have such amazing partnerships.”
Kelly says U-Can-Cer Vive is all about collaboration. They partnered with the mid-Michigan chapter of Comfy Cozy for Chemo, a non-profit started by Arizona resident Amanda Hope.
Melanie LaFontaine is on the grassroots team for U-Can-Cer Vive and says she helped create the partnership with Comfy Cozy for Chemo.
"Their mission aligns with ours. They want to support children and families facing cancer," said Melanie. "As a child, Amanda Hope went through cancer, she came up with the idea to create these shirts that are tie-dyed, and they have zippers on them so when going through chemo, kids don't have to feel uncomfortable about accessing their port. It makes it easy to access it without the child feeling uncomfortable."
Kelly LaFontaine says when her brother Ryan was diagnosed with cancer, all she wanted to do was protect him. They did research and found out that there was a 76% cure rate for his type of cancer.
“What made us feel that it was going to be okay was somebody that did that research and ended up funding the research ahead of us," said Kelly. "That gave us that 76% cure rate. This was our hope and we said, we need to make sure that somebody else has that.”
U-Can-Cer Vive Foundation volunteers are delivering the bears this week and will continue to hold events all year long to bring hope, funding and research to families and institutions facing cancer.
“Any service that you do, you never walk away thinking, I really wish I didn't do that," said volunteer Casey Jacobson. "You know, you never do. Every good service, you walk away feeling great, and you know that you impacted somebody's life. And if you just impact somebody once a day. It's fantastic.”
We want to say thank you to all those who raise money for cancer research and honor U-Can-Cer Vive Foundation volunteers as this week’s Good Neighbors.
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