Saving Grace: Young Philanthropist Honors Family Friend, Helps Cancer Patients
Grace Curtis, a 12-year-old student at Brownell Middle School in Grosse Pointe, is on a mission to help patients who struggle with the financial burden of a cancer diagnosis. Her mission began with a family friend, Maryam Whelan, who passed away from cancer in 2017 at the age of 40, leaving behind her husband Brian and daughter Sophia.
Before she passed, Maryam established The Superwoman Fund at Henry Ford Health System to alleviate financial burdens for women battling cancer. The fund, which operates through Henry Ford’s Game On Cancer program, “adopts” a patient, providing assistance from their first diagnosis until the end of their treatment.
A soon-to-be eighth grader, Grace decided to apply for the National Junior Honor Society, which asks the applicant to complete a service project as part of the application. When thinking about possible causes to support, Grace remembered The Superwoman Fund.
Maryam quickly became a close family friend, who Grace, her sisters, and cousins called a “princess,” because she was incredibly kind, charming and generous.
“Maryam put herself in others’ shoes and realized that a cancer diagnosis would be much harder if you didn’t have resources and a family to support you,” says her husband Brian Whelan.
Grace decided to focus her project on rallying support for the Superwoman Fund in honor of Maryam.
“It’s unbelievable what people have to go through,” says Joe. “They have to make decisions that so many others don’t have to think about – people don’t save for a rainy-day surgery.”
Inspired by “Princess Maryam,” she formulated a plan for her service project. “I drafted a letter, which took a while because it had to be as professional as possible,” says Grace. With letter in hand, she hopped on her bike and delivered 35 copies to her neighbors.
In the letter, Grace described her special connection with Maryam. She also described how funds would be used to help patients buy necessities such as groceries and clothing, as well as provide transportation to treatments.
“I wanted people to know that sometimes it’s the smallest things that help the most and even $10 could help a patient get a ride to the hospital,” says Grace.
After setting an initial goal of $1,000, she ended up raising more than $2,200 while receiving several notes of encouragement and recognition from those who donated. Grace was positively surprised by the response – even her little sister, Mary Claire, donated a dollar from her allowance.
Grace did get accepted into the honor society, but to her, that was secondary.
“I had decided to do this project whether or not I got in,” Grace said.
Grace is very proud of more than doubling her goal. “I hope people see what I’ve done and that it inspires others to support projects they care about,” she said. On her budding future as a professional fundraiser, Grace added, “I’d like to keep doing this – and support the Superwoman Fund again next year.”