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A Box of Letters Left Behind Impacts Many Women..Why? | Kent Wellington


A Box of Letters Left Behind Impacts Many Women..Why? | Kent Wellington

august 5 2002 it's about 9 30 p.m and you're at one of your fantasy football drafts with your friends well i always told myself if i had a reoccurrence i would start writing right away i had to wait for my second reoccurrence to do so i guess for the first one i really thought i might make it forever with this one i don't there are so many things i want and need to tell you this is part of a letter it's also a gift left behind by my late wife to be read later after she died in 2007. karen was diagnosed with breast cancer at the ripe old age of 30 when our kids were almost one and three she died at age 40 but she packed a lot of life and giving in that last decade in fact it's a give first attitude that inspired the karen wellington foundation for living with breast cancer we never set out to form a foundation she came home to chemo one day and said you know wouldn't it be cool if once we beat cancer we could go on vacation each year and send someone the chemo cheers next to me well we never were able to do that while she's alive but we're doing it now the day she died the folks at hospital asked us where flowers should go flowers we thought we can do better than that so we put together a fund and committed to sending one woman living with breast cancer on vacation and we did that and we've continued to do that 13 years later thanks to the hand of god and hard work of many others particularly women this year we will do our one thousandth gift of fun one thousand vacations spa days bruce springsteen concerts in chicago fun for some women who don't have a lot of fun on the calendar 30 of our vacations are last vacations like pam's pam had given up panic stop treatment but thanks to the generosity of one of our vacation home donors pam reluctantly agreed to take a last vacation to scottsdale arizona the way karen's foundation works is we ask people who have a vacation home or time share to give us a week a year of their vacation home and we connect the two as an example we'll call them vic and rita because that's their name give us their vacation home four or five weeks a year and vic puts it best vic said at his son's wedding when he gave the toast he said i used to think happiness was having a vacation home that i can use whenever i wanted but i was wrong then i thought happiness was having a vacation home that my family could use whenever i wanted but i was wrong then too then i met this crazy foundation and i now get my vacation home to women and families living with breast cancer many of whom i don't even know now i have found true happiness that friends is give first when pam and her husband arrived in arizona they bumped into a police officer he learned their story and he traveled with them to the resort when he was done he turned around and said you know i'm not working next week i'm going to be your personal driver we didn't plan it we just gave first we dropped that first pebble in the water and watched the goodness ripple from there an amazing thing happened when pam returned from vacation she started treatment again and although we lost pam that next year she died in a very different place than when she was before that vacation thanks in part to the kindness of a police officer who recognized the value of give first get first is a simple mantra it also works it first cuts through all the negativity and all the crap it's also the great paradox of life the more we give the richer our lives it's not the more we give the more we get that misses the point entirely that misses the magic it's why when our vacation recipients return they are never more alive than when they take off the victim's hat and put on the giver's hat to nominate someone in the chemotherapy chairs next to them karen's foundation is more of an attitude than a foundation it's a grand experiment for example our goal every year is to grow revenue by 15 percent and grow giving by twenty percent don't add up the math does not work unless you believe in the power of give first get first is also a concept that is really best focused on big picture items it's not a photo op it's not a box to be checked but in many respects it all started with a simple box three months after karen died our 10 year old daughter angeline emerged from the scary part of the basement a place she didn't like to go and to this day we still do not know what she was doing down there particularly at night with a box of 40 letters from her mother each of them sealed with specific instructions on when to be opened for robbie on your 13th birthday for angeline on your 40th birthday each of the letters contain the perfect words for her kids to read decades later my kids have 12 letters left with the last one to be opened in the year 2047. i opened my last letter a couple years ago on my 50th birthday it was more of a thank you letter which was good because i sometimes struggled with whether i had done enough for karen while she was alive this letter like the previous ones answered yes you did and thank you the letters are difficult to read but they're also inspiring fortunately the letter also said i want you to be happy and i'm pleased to report that last week i got engaged to a loving kind very talented giving of course woman who my next ted talk is going to be about because we're going to have some fun and we're going to do some great things together let me leave you with an example of give first i could give you hundreds but let's focus on the little girl who found the box when she was in her last year of high school it came time for senior night for her field hockey team senior night of course is a night about the seniors except these seniors had something else in mind you see angeline had nominated the school custodian for a vacation from her mother's foundation because his wife was living with breast cancer we fast-tracked that nomination through and got the principal in on the act the principal called and said to the custodian hey i don't know what's going on tonight all the kids seem to be coming out for this field hockey game would you and your wife mind coming and helping us clean up well as it turns out senior night was not about the seniors at all no senior night was a celebration of a school custodian and his wife and a surprise vacation and a whole lot of love and affection that night these young women learned firsthand the power of give first i don't think i've ever seen a happier senior night if i could turn the tables and write one last letter to karen here's what i'd say losing you 13 years ago was hard i still feel sad when i think about all you've missed but the gifts you've left behind your letters your foundation that has given a little joy and hope to almost a thousand women and their families so far your spirit are all a reminder of the power and the beauty and the magic of give first it's now my turn to say thank you you