for interviewing our founder, Elizabeth MacDonald!
Discover how eamf was founded below, and see the original interview here.
Today we’d like to introduce you to Elizabeth MacDonald.
Elizabeth, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I started my philanthropic journey as a volunteer at CHLA. I donated 15 hours a week for five consecutive years. It was through this experience I witnessed first hand the lack of attention given and services offered for the brothers and sisters of the patients. They sat for hours in the playroom unnoticed by their parents, lunches forgotten and feeling neglected. I then gathered passionate, like-minded individuals to help me take on the challenge and battle for fair treatment of the siblings. We received our 501 ©(3) status in 2009 to support and empower these children suffering in silence.
What we have learned, witnessed, and identified is what we have coined the sibling experience: When a child experiences a serious illness, whether physical or mental, all of the attention of the parents and of the medical team is focused on making that child well, and rightly so. The whole family unit is restructured, and parents are consumed with worry and fear for their sick child. Siblings are also traumatized by this experience, yet their needs are often overlooked.
Due to circumstantial neglect, the healthy sibling becomes the forgotten child who is left alone to process and deal with intense emotional responses that he or she has as a result of the health crisis of their brother or sister. Now the healthy sibling has become a sick child who suffers in silence in the background.
We defined our foundation’s mission to truly find a solution to this problem: To shine the light of awareness upon and to alleviate the devastating effects, both long and short-term, that brothers and sisters experience due to having a sibling battling a health crisis.
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
When a child looks sick, people feel sorry for them. That’s the normal human reaction.
But at eamf, we understand that the brothers and sisters of patients are sick as well, even if you can’t tell from looking at them. They hide their sadness, grief, anger, depression, and fear. But we see it! This is why we formed the education and advocacy arms of the foundation. We are the only foundation that is sibling-centric that has identified this problem, speaks up, and takes action for this drastically underserved population.
We must raise the awareness and receive aid not only from hospital administrators, medical staff and legislators, but also within the family unit; parents and extended family members must be reminded and educated as well. We are also challenged in the fundraising department of running a charity. As we mentioned, siblings don’t “look sick,” so they, unfortunately, do not garner the sympathy that a child with obvious physical or mental impairments usually receives.
We have to work extra hard at convincing grantmakers, corporations, and private donors to look beneath the layers and see the sickness that these siblings experience and help fund us, so we can continue our very unique and special work. We offer all of our programs FREE of charge to hospitals, health facilities, and families. By absorbing ALL the costs, we are left to struggle to make ends meet from time to time.
We’d love to hear more about your foundation.
Our foundation is the only organization to pinpoint the sibling situation and to take direct action to help solve the crisis by creating sibling solutions. It is important to note that unlike so many other non-profits, we do not specify one particular disease or illness.
Whether it be cancer or leukemia, a mental disability, eating disorder or brain tumor, when illness strikes a family, no matter what it is, mental or physical, the illness can take over and destroy the entire family structure.
We start by educating parents, healthcare facilitators, schools, and community organizations through informational workshops, and engage in advocacy and policy work with hospital and healthcare administrators and legislators to ensure that siblings have rights and equal access to needed treatments and programs, along with funding and research.
We have created SIBLING ONLY programs to help children process the intense emotions and enormous stress related to their brother’s or sister’s health crisis and the changes in their family structure. We have developed two unique sibling only programs.
Shine on Siblings - Shines the spotlight on siblings through performance-based events, providing a fun and safe outlet where siblings are free to express their thoughts, feelings, and individuality.
Star Sibling Program - Empowers children by providing individualized, practical, hands-on support to siblings while emphasizing their own roles, daily life, and place within the family during this journey.
We manage these programs with the help of amazing, dedicated, energetic, local volunteers giving their time and talents to this cause.
Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
LUCK is defined as “success or failure apparently brought by chance rather than through one’s own actions.” By this definition… luck has played NO part in the journey of eamf. It was only through conscious, continuous hard work and sacrifice that eamf was born. It took time, effort, and a lot of money to bring our charity to its feet.
Eamf will celebrate its 10th birthday April 2019, and it is due to the actions, dedication, and commitment of many people - staff, volunteers, the medical community, and others to create and support a mission to help an incredibly underserved population. So… it is not by chance that eamf exists… it is by design.
Siblings are the lucky ones. They now have an organization that recognizes their plight and is willing to fight to make their lives better.