Fundraising Dynamo and On-the-Go Mom Keeps it Together with her BlackBerry Smartphone

Wendy Durigon is a stay-at-home mom who's never at home. She's the champion fundraiser for Jessica's Footprint, a foundation for cancer research in honour of her one-year-old daughter she lost to a cancerous brain tumour in 2003. And she's a wife and mother of two active girls. Wendy explains how she organizes a 1,100 person annual walk, runs a foundation, goes on field trips with her daughters, talks to corporate sponsors and instant messages her husband because it's faster — all from her BlackBerry® smartphone.

BlackBerry Connection (B.C.): What inspired you to start your foundation, Jessica's Footprint?

Wendy Durigon (W.D.): I lost my daughter, Jessica, to a brain tumour when she was a year old. We donated Jessica's tumour for research to Dr. Peter Dirks at Sick Kids® hospital in Toronto, Canada. Jessica's and other children's tumours have confirmed that childhood and adult brain tumours originate from cancer stem cells and that these stem cells fuel and maintain tumour growth. This discovery at Sick Kids has opened the door for new therapeutic targets for the treatment of brain tumours.*
(*Sick Kids Hospital Annual Report 2006-2007)

When Jessica died, we said we were going to raise funds and awareness about paediatric brain tumours. My career background is also in fundraising. But we had decided to postpone our efforts. Within 15 minutes of deciding that, I got a call from the media about the breakthrough Dr. Dirks had. They wanted to know what fundraising we were doing to contribute to this research. That really forced me to sit down, do a web site, come up with a committee, and create a foundation. I joke about it now and say that it was Jessica saying: 'Get moving, Mom. You're not getting out of this.'

B.C.: What does Jessica's Footprint raise money for?

W.D.: We're a completely volunteer organization. All of the money raised from Jessica's Footprint goes to Sick Kids Foundation, and directly to Dr. Peter Dirks and his research at the Arthur and Sonia Labatt Brain Tumour Research Centre. As I understand it, this is the only paediatric brain tumour research centre in Canada.

We run A Walk in the Park, a fund raising walk for cancer research that happens where I live in Guelph, Ontario. The first year of the walk, we had 850 people. This, its second year, we had 1,100 people. We've raised about $330,000 in the last two years, and about $170,000 on this past walk alone.

My daughter's actual footprint, from an imprint taken at the hospital, is Jessica's Footprint. So people can buy stickers and promotional materials from three of our sponsors, Sam's Club,Wal-Mart and Shopper's Drug Mart, to contribute to the fund. We have had golf and curling tournaments and are looking at a Silent Auction and Dinner in the future.

B.C.: Why did you decide you needed a BlackBerry smartphone to help you handle your fund raising work for Jessica's Footprint?

W.D.: I'm a stay-at-home mom, but, ironically, I'm never at home. Everybody was communicating with me on my cell phone about the foundation. In the morning, I'd check my emails and leave. But I'd get calls all day asking me if I received an email. My husband had a BlackBerry smartphone for his business, and I suddenly told him one day: 'I need one of those!' He laughed at first, but when I got one, I knew it was the right decision.

B.C.: How much of a difference has it made?

W.D.: It's such a relief that my BlackBerry smartphone is on my hip all the time. It means I'm only a little buzz away. I have lots of people that are helping me, but I am ultimately the decision-maker. I'm the point of contact for everything that goes on with Jessica's Footprint. When I go to Wal-Mart for the foundation, they want to meet the mother. They want me to be the one that's talking. You can only be in so many places at so many different times.

I also have two children that I need to be accessible to, which is why I'm at home. I can now go on a field trip with them and have my BlackBerry smartphone with me. Somebody can send me a message and I can email back to approve something that may be time sensitive. It's a huge weight off my shoulders. I always have ten things going on at once.

B.C.: What kinds of things are easier to do because of your BlackBerry smartphone?

W.D.: I can approve things from wherever I am. Sometimes, it's artwork in PDF format. But more often, it's our volunteer lists. If somebody sends an attachment, I can pretty much read anything that comes across.

I might be on a field trip, but the corporation emailing me doesn't need to know that. It's like I'm sitting at my desk, at my computer, and I can give an answer right away. It doesn't seem like it's a part-time job. It looks more professional.

One time, a confectionary manufacturer once emailed me as part of the Walk in the Park and wanted to donate dessert for our BBQ after the walk. I was able to email a volunteer and ask him to pick them up for me, with the address and directions in the email.

B.C.: You're apparently a big fan of BlackBerry Messenger?

W.D.: I instant message everybody. You can imagine what it's like on the day of the walk, with everyone in different places. I'm the head organizer. I'm the one doing the speeches and I'm the first to cut the ribbon and I walk the five kilometres because that's the emotional part for Jessica. While everybody's back getting ready for the lunch we're about to provide for 1,100 people, I can stay in communication from anywhere on the route.

My BlackBerry smartphone is definitely changing the ease of having to run a major event. It's so much easier than picking up the phone. I have my whole steering committee on my BlackBerry® Messenger contact list. I love that you can put two words down, hit enter, and you don't have to go into a long conversation.

B.C.: But you're not just using your BlackBerry Messenger for your fundraising work?

W.D.: Right now, I'll admit that I have a few conversations open. I'm on with women whose kids are the same age and we're all home. We kind of travel in a pack. Last week, I was shopping and I used the camera to take a picture of a table runner for Christmas. I sent it over BlackBerry Messenger to my friend to ask if I should buy it for her. She took a look and said, "No."

B.C.: How do your kids react to Mom on her BlackBerry smartphone?

W.D.: I have a nine-year-old and a four-year-old, and both of them are on web sites for children. For the past couple of years, they haven't been able to get on the computer because I needed it for work. When I got the BlackBerry smartphone in the summer, my nine-year-old complained that I was always on it. I said, "Do you realize how much you get to be on the computer now because I'm using this instead?" You could see it dawn on her in that moment and she's suddenly all for me using it now!

B.C.: What other features do you like?

W.D.: I use the camera all the time. I love taking pictures. When I went on vacation recently, I didn't bring my camera. I used this. I recently bought a turkey that was too big for the pan, so I took a picture of it and sent an instant message with it to my Mom. She's one of my contacts. She went out and bought a pan for me and brought it to my house.

B.C.: So is your BlackBerry smartphone just as much about making your life run more smoothly?

W.D.: It's for business and life. My husband would tell you we talk during the day more now than we ever did. We're not really talking, but we're messaging.

I sit at an ice rink for two hours, three nights a week, because my daughter figure skates. There are a couple of women there, because all of our girls skate, and we share recipes back and forth using our BlackBerry smartphones.

I really find that I feel more relaxed about getting things done. I've got my phone, I can message somebody. I use the memo pad daily to keep track of what I need to do. I do my groceries on it; in fact, I got rid of my pad of paper that stuck to my fridge. Because my BlackBerry smartphone's always on my hip, I just pull it out and write it down.

B.C.: Can you imagine life without your BlackBerry smartphone now?

W.D.: The office of Jessica's Footprint is really my web site, my computer, and my BlackBerry smartphone. Many people contact me saying, how can we help? What can we do? It's been really wonderful to communicate with them so easily and channel all this support into something so positive.

To find out more about Jessica's Footprint or to make a donation to Sick Kids, please click here.

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