Blog

Hope and Healing: CEO Wants Ailing Children Everywhere to Be "A Kid Again"

March 15, 2016

Jeff DamronFrom time to time, Compass Financial Group highlights clients and others in our community who are following their passion and making an impact in the world. This month, we are pleased to share the story of our client Jeff Damron. His work in granting the wishes of children with life-threatening illnesses is changing the lives of those kids and their families. Compass Financial Group is proud to make a financial donation to A Kid Again in his honor.

When Jeff Damron began volunteering for A Special Wish Foundation, his first assignment was to grant the wish of Katie.

Katie was a 3-year-old in Reynoldsburg, Ohio, and she was dying of leukemia.

"Katie wanted a fish tank with some goldfish," Jeff said. "She just wanted to watch her fish."

So Jeff paid $45 for a fish tank and fish, and Katie stole his heart.

Little Katie watched her fish for three weeks before she passed away—but not before forever changing the course of Jeff's life.

"I decided I wanted to make a difference in the lives of those children," he said.

That was in 1983, and at that time the Columbus, Ohio-based nonprofit was only granting wishes for children with terminal illnesses. For the next seven years he and the others in the all-volunteer group fulfilled about 10 wishes a year. Then the organization broadened its mission to help children with life-threatening illnesses—and the requests for wishes shot up. In Columbus alone, they received 35 requests. Problem was, their reserves went down. The $100,000 that Special Wish had in the bank dwindled to $65,000.

The group needed to raise money to continue its mission, and so the board asked Jeff to do the fundraising. He went from a volunteer to a full-time employee.

On his first day of employment, a kid named Sean called. Sean had cystic fibrosis, and he wanted to meet former Bengals running back Archie Griffin. Special Wish contacted Griffin, who agreed to meet Sean. The meeting was scheduled for just three days later.

"Sean passed the day before," Jeff said.

A Kid AgainJeff went and picked up the signed football that Griffin was going to give to Sean, and he brought it to the parents. As it turned out, all three of their children were suffering from cystic fibrosis.

Shortly after, Jeff met Bobby, who came to the group in 1994 with a wish to meet President Clinton. He and his brother Eric both had the same fatal hereditary disease. Current presidential candidate John Kasich was an Ohio Congressman at the time and helped organize the trip. The entire family spent the week in Washington, D.C., and had the opportunity to meet President Clinton. The boys' courage and humor in the face of death made such an impact on Kasich that the first chapter of his book Courage Is Courageous is about them.

In 1997 Jeff went on to work for A Kid Again, where he is chief executive officer. Jeff said A Kid Again differs from other wish-granting organizations.

"We don't just grant one wish. We support them through their entire illness. And we offer support for the entire family, not just the child."

A Kid Again believes that improving the well-being of everyone affected by the illness helps protect and strengthen the child's primary support network. It helps build their personal resolve during the most difficult period of their young lives.

"We strive to give these kids an opportunity to have fun and feel like they should—the kid they are meant to be each day," says the group's website. "Our adventures are designed for kids to have something to look forward to, to have fun with friends and give their sisters, brothers and parents some respite as well."

It's a big undertaking, but Jeff has an even bigger vision. A Kid Again has three chapters serving Ohio. Jeff wants to help children and their families across the country.

"One day every child in America with a life-threatening illness will be able to participate in A Kid Again and bring their siblings and parents," he said.

To do that, the organization relies heavily on volunteers and financial partners. Jeff urges anyone with an interest to get involved. He can speak from over three decades of experience how gratifying it is to bring hope, happiness and healing to children with life-threatening illnesses and their families.

"When I started, it was more than just a career change—it was a life change," he said. "It's not work to me. It's energizing. I'm living my passion every day."

For information on A Kid Again, visit the website at www.akidagain.org.