In 1999, at just 5 years old, sports lover and Cobb County resident Killian Owen was diagnosed with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia. Receiving treatment at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta (CHOA), Killian fought hard and endured several treatment methods, even traveling to Maryland for an experimental targeted treatment at the National Institutes of Health.
Sadly, 9-year-old Killian lost his ferocious battle to cancer in 2003, but his parents, Clay and Grainne Owen, decided to use their grief as a tool of motivation to help others. They thought back to a charitable act made by their other son’s basketball coach at the Catholic Church of St. Ann in Marietta, who asked his team at the time to forego their end-of-season gift and donate directly to CHOA in honor of Killian. This simple act of kindness is what sparked the Owen’s drive to raise money for childhood cancer and treatment options.
“We raised money for that first year with the help of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta,” Grainne Owen recalls. “It soon became apparent that we might be able to do more with it than just help kids [in Atlanta].” Owen says they only expected to raise around $5,000 that year but raised more than $45,000. This outpouring of support helped them realize that this charity would be a great fundraising option for their family in memory of Killian and in honor of other young people fighting cancer. Curing Kids Cancer, which is run from a converted garage space attached to the Owen’s home in Cobb County, officially became a charity in 2005. They now fundraise and financially support pediatric cancer research all over the country.
How They Raise Funds
There are three main ways Curing Kids Cancer raises funds for pediatric cancer. First, funds may be dispersed through working with the Medical Advisory Board. “If we have a large amount of money to put out for a grant, we first gather applications and then narrow it down to the top two,” Owen says. “[The Medical Advisory Board] makes a recommendation and we decide between those two.”
Secondly, funds are raised and allocated through direct relationships Curing Kids Cancer develops with hospitals. For example, in addition to her work with CHOA, Owen raises funds for Children’s of Alabama and Texas Children’s Hospital. “We want to ensure that the money we raise goes toward getting the most effective or most cutting-edge treatment to all children when they need it,” Owen says. “Traditional chemotherapy is not always the best treatment option for kids.”
The third and final way is when a donor designates a donation or proceeds from an event to a specific fund, project, hospital or research facility, which Owen says fits the Curing Kids Cancer mission.
In addition to raising funds themselves, Curing Kids Cancer has several celebrity donors who help them reach fundraising goals. Closing pitcher for the Atlanta Braves, Craig Kimbrel, and his wife, Ashley, have both contributed to the cause in the past. The couple this November helped plan a “Cowboy Boots & Cocktails” country music concert at The Fox Theater in support of the charity.
Lee Corso, ESPN College GameDay commentator and former football coach, is another noteworthy sponsor of Curing Kids Cancer. He also serves as an honorary chairman for the charity. Corso “speaks passionately about the need for funding childhood cancer during his regular appearances for the charity, including the annual AT&T/Curing Kids Cancer Golf Classic,” states curingkidscancer.org. Two other famous faces supporting the charity are Dana Mecum, president of Mecum Auction Company, and Tony Barnhart, sports writer and broadcaster. “Donations come from everywhere … from children in schools to millionaires in Texas,” Owen says, “anybody and everybody who is moved by the cause.”
Building Community Support
While Killian was being treated at CHOA, the Owen family formed several lasting relationships with families whose children were also fighting cancer. The Babcock family, whose daughter Taylor was receiving treatment alongside Killian, became especially close with Clay and Grainne Owen’s family. Taylor, now a cancer survivor, and her family remain active with Curing Kids Cancer. “I get involved every chance I can,” Taylor’s mother Pam Babcock says. “After Grainne started [the charity], we really just jump on board any time we can.”
Pam describes Grainne as being “such a comfort” to her when they first met in the pediatric cancer ward at CHOA. “The Owen family, they are amazing,” Babcock adds. “To reach out and do what they do in the community is just mind blowing. I personally don’t know how they do it … their compassion, all of the money they have raised, everything … there are just no words.”
Mike Bowman, a Cobb County Police officer and good friend to the Owen family, is also a supporter of the organization and its mission. He and Grainne Owen came up with Certified Officers of Public Safety, or COPS, as a secondary group to the existing charity. “This would include police, the sheriff’s office, EMTs and 911,” Bowman says. “Sgt. Bonnie Smith [with Cobb Police] assisted with the inception of COPS Curing Kids Cancer and has been instrumental with everything that we have accomplished so far.” For the past three years, COPS participants have collected and donated toys to CHOA at Scottish Rite, the hospital group’s cancer ward. “I have seen a multitude of smiles placed on children’s faces due to this organization,” Bowman says. “I have a special spot in my heart for children.”
Georgia State Sen. John Albers, another good friend to the Owen family, is also involved with the organization. “In the past, I have had several people I know whose children were affected by cancer,” Albers says. “We have done many things to rally around raising funds for cancer research, including Relays for Life, and going to speak at Relays.”
And while he’s rallied behind Curing Kids Cancer for years, as a volunteer firefighter, Albers says that he is particularly excited about a fire truck pull challenge scheduled Dec. 6 to help raise funds for the local charity. “I’m helping to coordinate the pull now,” he says. “Grainne is handling the logistics, and I am working with her to help find the department. And certainly helping to get the publicity out for her.”
The challenge is the second fire truck pull the organization has hosted. The first pull was in South Carolina earlier this year. “My sister-in-law helps us raise money in South Carolina. She got together with a local business and someone had suggested a fire truck pull,” Grainne says. “Teams of 12 are put together, and they have to see who can pull the truck over a distance of 50 feet in the shortest amount of time.”
Grainne explains that teams, which can be formed by anyone, come together in honor or memory of a child who is currently undergoing cancer treatment, is a cancer survivor or passed away after losing their battle to the disease. “Teams dress in a theme chosen by the child they are pulling for,” Grainne adds. For example, participants in South Carolina donned pink tutus for a young girl who loved ballet. In addition to raising awareness through the spectacle of the challenge, funds will be raised through registration fees and donations received at the event. Anyone interested in learning more about the event, forming a team and registering for it should contact the organization’s director of development, Amanda Smith at (229) 938-4980 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I knew nothing about running a charity [when I started this organization],” Grainne concludes. “I think Killian is watching over us … and we’re just trying to do the right thing.”