Introducing the Sunflower Fund

Jenna and her daughter Molly at Transplant House.

Introducing the Sunflower Fund, to benefit organ transplant families who are experiencing long stays at Transplant House of Cleveland. All proceeds from the sale of artisan-made items such as jewelry, artwork, embroidery, handmade soaps, and custom woodworking, will directly support families staying at the House. You can visit the Sunflower Fund’s online Etsy store at ThreeCharmingMuses and follow the Fund on Instagram. Some items are also available for sale at Transplant House.

Jenna Banville Smith knows the challenges of a long transplant journey. She and her daughter Molly were guests at Transplant House for almost five and a half years. Mother and daughter both quickly appreciated how hard it can be for transplant families living far from home. The stress of the medical journey and the financial strain is something each family faces, regardless of the length of their time away from home; but for those facing a much longer stay these burdens can become overwhelming.

The seed for what would become the Sunflower Fund began with a monetary gift given in memory of Molly by the local volunteer fire department near Jenna’s home in Maine. Jenna knew she wanted to use the gift to provide something lasting – a source of support and comfort that could continue to be a benefit to transplant families.

“I was asking myself, ‘how can we make this money grow?’” she says. “I thought about finding people who were touched by organ transplant patients in one way or another – family and friends who are artistic and interested in working with us to sell their work as gifts with the proceeds benefiting the fund and, ultimately, long-staying guests.”

Jenna, who is herself an artist with a line of jewelry, began developing a plan for selling artisan-made goods through pop-up boutiques, an online store, and craft shows to keep replenishing the fund. As the idea began to take shape, she talked to Mary Jane Fueston about it and, pooling their resources, they decided to work on the project together.

Mary, like Jenna, had also been a long-term guest at Transplant House. She spent almost a year there as caregiver to her niece Kris. And, like Jenna, Mary had been thinking about doing something for Transplant House.  

“In a way,” Mary says, “this had been in our heads when we were there at Transplant House.”

After returning home, Mary wanted to find a way of staying involved in a community that was like a second family to her and to Kris. As a caregiver and talented quilter, collaborating with a community of artists touched by transplant to support transplant families was an exciting idea.

Mary and Kris visiting Lakeview Cemetery just up the road from Transplant House.

“Mary and I were very lucky,” Jenna says, “in that we had kids who wanted us to keep busy, help others and be part of the community at the House. Once we were home, we both missed that.”

For Jenna and Mary, the community around them became an important part of their daily lives in Cleveland. Far from home and from extended family, their fellow guests became a support network of people who shared a similar experience. They formed lasting friendships that have endured long after they left Transplant House – and these friendships helped them through a difficult time in their lives.

They also know that no matter the outcome of that journey, whether it results in a successful transplant or does not, it is a hard one and, as Jenna says, “any little thing is helpful and can brighten someone’s day.”

Jenna has a name for these instances: sunflower moments.

“When you stay at Transplant House, these moments occur all the time even if they are difficult to appreciate in that moment.  Someone might donate gift cards for everyone at the House and that $10 gift card to Panera is such a treat! It gives you permission to walk across the street, breathe the air, maybe gaze lovingly into the bakery case and bring a goody back to share with your loved one.”

The hope is to use the fund to bring more of these moments to families who are facing longer stays and the serious financial challenges it poses.

“It’s one small way of giving back and there’s comfort in doing it,” Jenna says.

“Yes – you feel like you’re keeping the girls’ struggles alive,” Mary agrees.

Jenna and Mary have big plans for the future of the fund, including an artwork raffle and bringing their pop-up boutique to the front lawn at Transplant House for the 5K Run and 1 Mile Walk on June 11th.

“Even though organ transplant is a deeply emotional journey, no one wants to be remembered as a transplant patient per se but rather thought of as a whole person – experiences and all,” Jenna says. “Molly said ‘I don’t want to be somebody’s hero. I don’t want to be known as that sick girl. I just want to be Molly.’ And I hope if we can make a good go of this special fund, the girls would approve, cheer us on and smile from ear to ear.”

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