Five Fathers Making a Big Difference in Orange County and Beyond
Great fathers make a huge difference in their children’s lives. The five fathers profiled here not only affect their children’s lives, but benefit the community at large with their remarkable charitable efforts. Two of these men are famous athletes, familiar to many here and around the country. Three aren’t so well known. But all five have performed tremendous deeds for those in need that make them Orange County heroes.
Photo by Ana Brandt
Sharing the American Dream
Sean-Paul Crawford believes his family epitomizes the American Dream. His parents emigrated from Northern Ireland in 1974 with their four children and roughly $1,000. Their fifth child, Sean-Paul, was the only one born in the United States. All five Crawford siblings were able to get very good jobs. Three of them, including Sean-Paul, became police officers. Sean-Paul works for the Irvine Police Department.
Crawford greatly appreciates that his immigrant family had many opportunities to thrive once they came to the United States. He does his part, and more, to return the favor, helping the people who defend our country. Crawford devotes a great deal of effort to the Boot Campaign, a nonprofit organization that helps military families transition back into civilian life.
The organization funds small grants that make a huge difference to bridge the gap between government programs for service members and the often challenging reality of life during and post-service. The Boot Campaign provides financial grants and housing assistance to those with an urgent need for it, and offers wellness and family initiatives. Among other things, it has provided gas cards allowing family members to visit veterans wounded in combat; given emergency housing assistance for veterans seeking jobs; and provided marriage counseling sessions for active duty soldiers and their spouses.
Crawford helps organize and promote The Boot Campaign’s Pushups for Charity event, in which over 100 teams nationwide “push” against their friends and family to raise money throughout each summer. When the event started five years ago at Custom Bodies Fitness, a small gym in Irvine, only a handful of people attended. Crawford was among them. Crawford considers the event an excellent way to help military families, introduce the community to police officers in a fun way, and encourage physical fitness. A gymnast since the age of three, Crawford went to the University of Illinois on a gymnastics scholarship and competed in national and international meets. Now he and his wife, Lindsay, an emergency dispatcher, have a three-year-old daughter and one-year-old son who root him on at Pushups for Charity events.
The Irvine event has grown much larger over the past five years. A recent addition is a run/walk in the morning, with each $35 admission fee going to the Boots Campaign. Then there is an open session at the Irvine Civic Center in which individuals with sponsors try to do as many pushups as they can in 90 seconds. Finally, there is a pushup competition among five-person teams from Irvine schools, corporations, the Marine Corps, the police department, and other organizations. Winners of the competition get their names engraved on a Bronze Boot award, along with bragging rights. Last year, a team of military veterans from PIMCO and a student team from Woodbridge High won Bronze Boots.
So far this year, Pushups for Charity participants throughout the country have raised close to $100,000. But there is still a long way to go. The Boot Campaign’s goal is to raise a million dollars by August 15, in order to provide 500 grants to veterans and their families. Crawford’s team, made up of participants from Custom Bodies Fitness and the City of Irvine Police Department, is currently the top team in the country, raising over $16,000 in its first few weeks. To join a team, host a team, or donate to a team, readers are encouraged to go to www.PushupsforCharity.com. The website www.BootCampaign.com lists other ways people can help our service members and veterans.
Photo by Ana Brandt
Finding His Purpose
David Wetzel is an Orange County native and resident, and a hero for people all over the world affected by brain cancer. Wetzel was born and raised in Huntington Beach. After attending college in Santa Barbara, he moved back to Huntington Beach and worked in the auto industry for 20 years. Wetzel’s wife, Kristine, is a teacher in Tustin. Tragedy struck in 2011 when their seven-year-old daughter, McKenna Claire, was diagnosed with Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG), an inoperable and non-survivable form of brain cancer.
The Wetzels’ friends organized a block party they called Party with a Purpose, to help out with McKenna’s medical expenses. Over 1,000 people showed up. McKenna was able to attend the party along with her parents and her big sister, Jordan. McKenna’s family helped their little girl get the most out of life. They took her on fun vacations and to an American Idol show and Lakers games. But there was no way to fight her cancer. McKenna passed away six months after diagnosis.
David Wetzel thinks about McKenna every day and says the pain of her passing will always be present. But he and Kristine decided they did not want to disappear in mourning. They were frustrated by the fact that so little was known about how to combat DIPG that McKenna had been given the same kind of medical treatment as Neil Armstrong’s daughter, who died from DIPG in 1962. Currently, DIPG accounts for 10% of brain tumors in children, but constitutes 80% of deaths resulting from childhood brain tumors. After McKenna passed away, the Wetzels arranged for her brain tumor tissue (along with her brain and spinal cord) to be donated to researchers at Stanford University, who are on the cutting edge of pediatric brain cancer and DIPG research. This tissue was developed into a cell line which has been used for cancer studies in 30 institutions around the world.
The Wetzels didn’t stop there. Both extroverts, they chose to try to have fun while trying to save the world. They started the McKenna Claire Foundation, www.McKennaClaireFoundation.org, a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising money for pediatric brain cancer research. The foundation’s biggest event is the annual Party with a Purpose. These parties, along with running races, golf tournaments, lemonade stands, and other events, have helped the foundation raise over $500,000 for research at Stanford and other universities.
David Wetzel now works fulltime for the foundation. Kristine still teaches, but does all the writing for the foundation on its website and Facebook page. Their daughter Jordan is a busy teenager who makes time to help with many of the foundation’s events. She and her friends bring teen spirit to the organization.
Though DIFG is still the most deadly childhood brain tumor, Wetzel says that more has been done to find a cure in the last four years than in the previous 40 years. He points to two groundbreaking studies, including one in which an existing drug has been found to slow the growth of DIPG. Jane Fountain, Ph.D., program director at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, says, “It’s astounding. In only six years, scientists have gone from knowing virtually nothing about this tumor to understanding its underlying genetics and finding a potential therapy.”
According to Wetzel, “It doesn’t take much to do something amazing and start your own miracles.” He says he’s humbled by the success of his foundation. We are humbled by our homegrown hero.
Richard Nares with 3-year-old client, Jayden Garcia. Photo by Ana Brandt
Giving a Lift to Pediatric Cancer Patients
Richard Nares and his wife, Diane, had a great deal of support from their many relatives after their only child, Emilio, was diagnosed with leukemia. They were able to drive Emilio to every doctor’s appointment and medical treatment without much trouble. But they noticed other families were not. Some families did not own a car, or needed their only car for work. They would have to take buses or cabs to and from the hospital. Cancer treatments for some children are daily or several times a week; the prices of transportation add up. Also, buses and taxis could be unreliable and unhygienic, a big drawback for a cancer patient with a suppressed immune system. Some children arrived late to their appointments or missed them altogether.
Richard and Diane felt great empathy with other parents of cancer patients. They all “belonged to a club that no one wants to belong to.” So nine years ago, they founded the Emilio Nares Foundation (ENF), named after their son, who, sadly, died a few days before his sixth birthday. Richard and Diane did not have the background to start a foundation. “I didn’t even know what a foundation was at first,” Richard Nares admits. “But I saw there was a need and I wanted to address that need.”
He certainly did. The foundation started out with one van to transport pediatric cancer patients to the San Diego children’s hospital. It has grown enormously since then, now providing over 2,000 rides per year in clean vans with a professional driver. Cancer patients using ENF vans include a young boy with a single mother and three younger siblings; a six-year-old needing daily radiation therapy, whose mother has no car; and a baby living with her mother in a shelter for victims of domestic violence.
In 2009, the foundation expanded from San Diego to include Orange County. Nares notes that because our public transportation system is weak, the county is spread out, and traffic congestion often makes trips to the hospital particularly time-consuming, his organization is especially needed in Orange County. The Emilio Nares Foundation now serves 400 families in 12 cities in Orange County.
It is not cheap to run ENF, which is completely funded by individuals, foundations, and corporations. Nares says ENF spends $80,000 a year in Orange County alone, and adds, “We can use all the help we can get.” He’s gotten help in Orange County from the Anaheim Angels, Amgen, Inc., and others, but hopes that Parenting OC readers will go to the foundation’s website, www.ENFHope.org, and make a donation.
Though Nares’ wife, Diane, works fulltime, she promotes the foundation by speaking at various events and plans its annual major fundraiser, Harvest for Hope. This year, Harvest for Hope will be held at the San Diego Central library on September 13. Donors at the event enjoy excellent food made by local restaurant chefs, paired with fine wines.
In 2013, Richard Nares was named a Top Ten Finalist to become CNN Hero of the Year. That year, he ran 700 miles in 30 days, from San Francisco to the children’s hospital in San Diego, to raise money and awareness of his foundation. He ended up bringing in $75,000 in donations and a great deal of media attention. Though Nares didn’t take up running until he was 50 years old, he and his wife say that he runs “on the wings of our son.”
A True Angel
MLB slugger, Albert Pujols, played for the Cardinals for 11 years before joining the Anaheim Angels. The first baseman has won three National League MVP awards, set homerun records, and is considered a strong Hall of Fame contender. But Pujols doesn’t rest on these laurels. For the past decade, he and wife Diedre have made major league contributions through their Pujols Family Foundation, www.PujolsFamilyFoundation.org.
Pujols is passionate about his foundation. A devout Christian, Pujols believes God has called on him to help people. He does so in a way that has personal significance to him. Pujols’ teenage stepdaughter, Isabella, has Down syndrome. His foundation helps children in the United States with Down syndrome, disabilities, and life-threatening illnesses. The nonprofit organization holds annual swanky proms in hotel ballrooms for people with Down syndrome, events the attendees look forward to all year. Pujols says the proms are “the highlight of the year” for him. Pujols’ organization also supports a baseball program for children with Down syndrome.
In addition, the foundation provides medical relief, education, and tangible goods to impoverished people in the Dominican Republic, where Pujols lived until 16. The foundation sends medical doctors and dentists to impoverished villages, including some that had never had a doctor come through before.
The Pujols’ have five kids, but find time for their foundation, sitting on the board and attending proms and other events. Pujols missed an opportunity to meet President George W. Bush in the White House while making rounds with a dentist his foundation had sent to the Dominican Republic. Pujols makes regular visits to shantytowns, providing mattresses for children who have never had one, building baseball fields, and coaching children who aspire to be just like Pujols when they grow up. That is a very worthy aspiration.
Getzlaf (left) with family and Hawken Miller (center) with his parents.
Helping His Good Friend and Many Others
Ryan Getzlaf doesn’t have much free time as the captain of the Anaheim Ducks. He’s also busy parenting two young boys and a baby daughter with his wife, Paige, and raising money for a charity that funds research to find a cure for Duchenne muscular dystrophy.
Cure Duchenne is headquartered in Newport Beach, and was founded by Paul and Debra Miller, whose son Hawken Miller has Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Duchenne, a genetic disorder, is the most common and severe form of muscular dystrophy. Most boys with Duchenne do not survive beyond their mid-twenties.
Ryan Getzlaf became involved with Cure Duchenne after meeting Hawken Miller at a charity event in 2011. The two soon became good friends. Getzlaf has spent a decade as power forward with the Ducks winning two Olympic gold medals for Canada. Hawken Miller is very accomplished in his own way. On June 5th, he graduates from Sage Hill High School, where he served as co-editor-in-chief of the newspaper. This fall he will attend USC. Knowing Hawken has made finding a cure for Duchenne personal for the Getzlafs.
Getzlaf looks forward to hosting the fifth annual Getzlaf Golf Shootout in Dana Point on September 13th. Foursomes are matched with a pro athlete or celebrity as the fifth member. Paige plans a VIP party the night before, which the couple attends with many other pro athletes. Nearly every hole at the golf course are fun activities such as a dunk tank, massage chairs, blackjack tables, and lots of great food. Getzlaf’s young sons have been practicing their golf swings in anticipation of the event. Last year, the tournament raised $345,000 for Cure Duchenne.
The money raised is being well spent. Hawken Miller’s family believe that a cure for Duchenne muscular dystrophy is close at hand, with promising new drugs in development but not yet approved.
To help cure Duchenne by making a donation or participating in the Getzlaf Golf Shootout or other fundraising events, visit the www.CureDuchenne.org website.
by Debra Garfinkle