When the nonprofit Elizabeth Agnello worked for closed its doors, she knew she had to act fast. About 125 children with serious or terminal illnesses were looking forward to a holiday party that now seemed unlikely to happen. A lack of funding didn’t stop Elizabeth — she not only orchestrated the party they deserved, but launched an organization of her own to fill a need in the community. Her mission was simple: create a place of belonging while spreading hope and happiness to children in need.
In Elizabeth’s words, the story of Brave Little Fighters Foundation from her interview on GoFundMe’s podcast, True Stories of Good People:
I have known since I was a young adult that helping terminally and seriously ill children was my life’s calling. When I was 18 years old, I worked for an organization that helped children with special needs and felt an instant connection with those who had a diagnosis of cerebral palsy. Making them laugh or simply sitting next to them during tough moments meant so much to them. I knew I wanted to serve a greater purpose and continue helping children who didn’t have it nearly as easy as others.
Last November, I was working for a New York City-based foundation that helped terminally and seriously ill kids when they announced they were closing their Buffalo, Rochester, and Albany chapters. I had been with them for a decade and was heartbroken at the news. I couldn’t stop thinking about how disappointed the children and families would be when they found out their upcoming holiday party would be canceled.
In that moment, the only thing I could think was, “How can I continue bringing joy to these children and their families?” Three weeks later, I formed the Brave Little Fighters Foundation (BLFF), a nonprofit that strives to ease the heartache and fear that children with serious and terminal illnesses face.
I’m so happy to say that we were able to throw the Christmas party after all, and we couldn’t have hoped for a better outcome! The nearby American Legion hosted the event for 45 children and their families. We had a Santa Claus, a marvelous toy drive, and professional photos of the children and their families. One father remarked that until that afternoon, he had not seen his child smile in a very long time.
BLFF had no funding in those first few months, so I started a GoFundMe to offset the initial costs. I worked hard to establish our roots and grow the number of families we could help.
Our Brave Little Fighters face a range of serious and terminal illnesses — from cancer to cystic fibrosis — so our goal is to help them find a unique kind of healing in a carefree atmosphere. We do this by organizing joyful outings throughout the year, completely free of charge.
We take children and their families to all different activities, like sports games and art and cooking classes — anything that may be hard for them to do on their own between hospital visits. It’s incredible to know that we’re helping them create lasting memories so they can look back on those moments with their family, even on their hardest days.
Our events offer the Brave Little Fighters and their entire families hope by giving them a place where they can have an open dialogue about what they’re going through and find a sense of belonging. The power of friendship is so transformative, and it’s a joy to see families meet each other for the first time and connect.
These children’s medical journeys are more difficult than I can possibly imagine, but when they’re able to talk about what they’re going through, it helps reduce their feelings of fear, anxiety, and isolation.
The last nine months have been a whirlwind. We’re proud to say we’ve hosted 24 outings and have served 200 unique and wonderful Brave Little Fighter family members. This summer we celebrated our first annual summer festival, we recently hosted an autumn party, and this coming December we’re excited to host our second annual Christmas celebration with more than 150 BLFF family members.
More children are joining BLFF each day, but we still have incredibly limited resources. In the future, it’s my hope that we can host fundraising events, become a household name, and grant wishes — because these children’s wishes are the most important thing to us.
Above all, we’d like to inspire hope. These children inspire me every day with their courage and joy, and they show me that anything is possible. In turn, we’d like to show them — through our programs and outings — that they can do anything. If they ask anything of us, I’d like to think that we can someday make it possible.
Listen to Elizabeth’s full interview on True Stories of Good People.