A relative newcomer to Chicago, Fresh Start Caring For Kids Foundation has devoted the past four years to making a difference in the lives of disadvantaged children with physical deformities. Since opening in 2014, the organization has provided free surgeries and medical care to 79 patients and more than $3 million in donated medical care.
The Foundation provides no-cost medical services to children age 1 through 17 through surgery weekends and follow-up medical care. A majority of the surgery hours and follow-up care are donated by a group of medical professionals, from anesthesiologists to registered nurses.
The Fresh Start Caring For Kids Foundation has only been in Chicago for about four years and has built itself completely from the ground up — there are only two people on the foundation staff, regional director Utica Gray and RN Carol Ann Jacovich-Ochwat. Despite its small size, Gray wants people to understand that even the smallest contribution to the organization can make a huge impact.
“I just want people to understand that everybody can get involved and make an impact in the lives of these children,” Gray says. “Even though what we do is very specialized, I want people to understand that this is a topic that even people who don’t have children can get behind.”
While Fresh Start offers no-cost surgeries to children, they don’t always come from extremely impoverished families. In fact, Gray says, it’s often the case that one or both parents are employed but insurance won’t cover the surgery. This is where the organization steps in, ensuring that the entire surgery weekend is free for the family.
“My favorite part is when we actually can help a family that for some reason has fallen through the cracks,” Jacovich-Ochwat, a nurse for more than 40 years, says. “But because of personal circumstances, because of insurance copays or exclusions, they cannot get help for their kid anyplace else. Some people just don’t have the means and to look at your kid and not be able to provide is a heart-wrenching thing and we’re happy to solve that problem.”
Lately, Gray says, Fresh Start has done several cochlear implant surgeries for deaf children. Each of these implants can cost anywhere from $24,000 and up, and the surgeries are very extensive with a number of steps involved.
“We’ve been able to restore hearing for kids who have never heard their mother’s voice before,” Gray says. “There’s no dollar amount you can attach to that to help them understand the impact we’re making in the lives of children.”
Recently, the organization just wrapped up their 2018 Celebrity Golf Classic, hosted by former White Sox player Jermaine Dye, a two-day event that raised nearly $100,000 — their biggest fundraiser yet. In addition to the fundraiser, Fresh Start has also partnered with the business school at the University of Chicago to develop a marketing plan to help spread the word about what the organization does.
“We just celebrated our fourth anniversary so we’re still very young, a lot of people still don’t know what we’ve accomplished and what we aim to do,” Gray says. “One issue we’ve encountered when people hear about us is it seems too good to be true because it’s free — the services will be subpar or there’s a catch — but we want to get our story out there.”
Interested in donating? Here’s what your dollars can do:
- $500 would pay for hospitalization expenses for patients for one Surgery Weekend
- $300 would pay for the travel expenses of one out-of-town patient and his/her family for one Surgery Weekend
- $150 would pay for the lodging expenses of a patient and his/her family for one Surgery Weekend
- $100 would pay for food for a patient and his/her family for one Surgery Weekend
- $75 would pay for the radiology expense for one patient
- $50 would pay for the laboratory expense for one patient
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Jessica Suss is a native Chicagoan residing in Washington, D.C. She is currently getting her master’s degree in secondary English education at the University of Maryland. She enjoys petting other people’s dogs and is faithful to Lou Malnati’s alone. Jessica is also a supporter of MAZON and No Kid Hungry.