Sitting around the kitchen table, coffee mugs in hand, a group of 15 friends made a decision — a decision to take a negative situation and spin it into something positive and rewarding.
“After we lost our dear friend, Laura, to brain cancer, in 2007 our group of friends decided that we wanted to do something positive to come out of all the sadness we were feeling, so we poured our hearts into starting this foundation,” Leave a Legacy Foundation board member Paige Kraus said Wednesday.
Kraus is referring to Laura Kleysteuber, a 30-year-old mother of two who died in 2006 after a six-year battle with brain cancer.
The mission of the foundation is to strengthen the cancer fighting resources in southwest Kansas.
Through several programs, the seven current board members and volunteers are impacting cancer patients throughout the region by sponsoring several events to raise money for local cancer centers and patients.
One of the most prominent events the foundation holds is semiannual free cancer screenings at the Women’s Clinic, 115 N. Main St. The Foundation held one Thursday night.
Physicians and health care providers on site administer skin and breast cancer screenings, pap tests, CBC & PSA Lab testing and bone density screening.
For Kraus, this event is the most satisfying to her because she gets to see the faces of people who otherwise might not have been tested or screened for cancer.
“Although they might have something concerning found at the screening, at least now they’re on the path to finding out what it is and getting help for that,” Kraus said. “We feel like we can be the hands and the feet at the cancer screening, and make a difference in individuals’ lives.”
In the spring, the cancer screenings will be held in Ulysses because the board wanted to give other southwest Kansas communities the opportunity to have close access to the free screenings.
“We wanted to start the screenings at an outreach area because a lot of people have to drive to Garden City for their cancer treatments,” Unger said. “It’s only fair to move it closer to them and give them the chance to have their own treatments closer to home.”
Because Laura loved to run, the main event Leave a Legacy holds is an annual 5K/10K run, which will be Oct. 3 at Lee Richardson Zoo.
“We thought that a run gives everyone the opportunity to come out and not only support a good cause, but better their own health and maybe strengthen themselves for their fight against cancer, or run and walk in the memory of a loved one,” Kraus said.
Kraus’ favorite part about the run is the community atmosphere it creates. Last year’s run had almost 20 teams from businesses, organizations and groups running or walking for family members and friends.
“I love that. Although it started off about our friend Laura, it’s grown into it’s own foundation, and what we’ve realized is everyone has a Laura. Everyone has a friend, mother, brother, father or someone that’s important to them that is devastated by this horrible disease,” Kraus said. “I love how it’s growing and that we’re able to support all types of people in our community that are fighting cancer.”
Katie Unger spearheads the foundation’s Laura’s Touches program.
Unger and other members bring monthly gifts to patients at local cancer center, whether it be fuel cards, snacks and gift cards to local shops.
Through its Fill the Fridge program, the foundation also stocks the refrigerator at the cancer center twice a month with juice, water and snacks for the nurses, doctors, patients and the patients families.
For Unger, Laura’s Touches has shown her that cancer patients are personally affected by the gifts they receive.
“It all started because we appreciated that Laura got to do her treatments at home at our cancer center,” Unger said. “Once you give the ‘Touches’ once, you’re hooked because you see people needing to be loved. When you’re having a bad day, like having to get chemotherapy, it’s nice to know there’s someone out there thinking of you and praying for you.”
To raise money for the Laura’s Touches program, the foundation holds several fundraisers. Most recently, Leave a Legacy ran a concession stand at the Bible Christian Church Freedom Fest, and all of the $900 raised went toward Fill the Fridge and Laura’s Touches.
Other ways the foundation raises money is through donated items, silent auctions and an annual golf tournament Laura’s mother, Sandy Badgett, hosts in Kansas City. Over the past seven years, the foundation has raised a total of $100,000.
With the funds raised last year, the foundation was able to cover the $30,000 cost of St. Catherine’s membership in the Midwest Cancer Alliance, which helps cancer patients in southwest Kansas consult with oncologists at the University of Kansas Cancer Center. Patients also can participate in clinical trials while staying close to home.
As the foundation enters its eighth year, Unger hopes to raise the $20,000 it takes to support the Laura’s Touches and Fill the Fridge programs, both of which come from the foundation’s reserve funds.
“I want to raise that $20,000 and continue to support cancer patients on a more personal level,” Unger said. “I get to work with the cancer patients and cancer center and see how it is impacting their lives, and to give that to somebody and hold their hand and tell them you’re there, I feel like that’s what we’re here to do on Earth.”
Despite the possible turmoils the foundation could have experienced while trying to raise money or organize events, Kraus said the group of friends have experienced few obstacles over time and look forward to continuing Leave a Legacy’s success.
“We worked diligently and tried to be really faithful about how we went about starting (the foundation), and God just seemed to bless us along the way and opened doors for us that we probably couldn’t have opened ourselves,” Kraus said. “It’s been amazing and awesome to watch how this little group of friends sitting around a kitchen table can try to turn something horrible into something positive in others lives.”
To donate to Laura’s Touches or Fill the Fridge, contact Unger at (620) 937-1071. Leave a Legacy donations also can be sent to Leave a Legacy Foundation, P.O. Box 734, Garden City, KS 67846. Visit Whodoyourunfor.org for more information.