For 2-year-old James Allio, the Kids Room at Stewart’s Caring Place is a colorful and friendly place to come and play with toys and volunteers.
But for his mother, Laura Allio, it is a comforting place to bring her son while she is on her cancer journey.
Allio, 33, found a lump in her breast seven months after James was born when she was breastfeeding. She had a mastectomy and radiation for her aggressive form of cancer.
The Copley woman began using the services at Stewart’s Caring Place in Fairlawn, a nonprofit organization that offers a variety of free services and support groups for cancer patients and their families.
James has played in the Kids Room while Allio has used services, such as getting a massage. He also has stayed in the room to play nearby when Allio talks with a counselor for therapy sessions.
"I like that he has this," she said of the room. "I know if in the future, he’d know his mom was brought comfort here, so that brings me joy.
"The room is just so beautiful. It just provides me hope and provides my family hope," said Allio of her son and her husband, Michael. Allio's cancer returned in August in her liver. She had the tumor removed but recently a large mass was found in the same spot. She will be seeking alternative treatment outside the state and country.
Stewart’s Caring Place is is one of 31 organizations sharing $43,750 in grants this year from the Millennium Fund for Children. Started in 1999 when the Akron Beacon Journal asked donors to give their last hour of pay in the 20th century, the Akron Community Foundation has amassed $1 million in the fund while handing out $757,000 in small grants to local programs.
The Akron Community Foundation has added a new text-to-give option to donate to the Millennium Fund this year. People can text "Millennium" to 41444, and they will receive prompts to make a donation on their phone.
Stewart’s Caring Place received a $2,000 grant this year for its Kids Room, Executive Director Jeannine Marks said.
"Our mission is to provide a relaxing environment for those on the cancer journey," Marks said of its programming, which is all provided free to patients and their families.
The funds will be used to buy more books, games, arts crafts and snacks for the Kids Room and its programs and services, including three kids camps in the summer, said Stephanie Davis-Dieringer, director of programs and operations.
"We do a lot of creative play with kids," Marks said. "They won’t sit down and say ‘Mom has cancer.’ They talk about their emotions and feelings, what they’re experiencing."
Marks said families come to Stewart’s during a time of crisis or recent diagnosis to use programs, including counseling, aromatherapy, seminars on wills and financial advising or debt management and support groups. This year, there are 155 programs being offered.
Many also volunteer. One of those volunteers is Emma Lieberth-Osborn, whose sister, Kate Liberth Lytton, died April 1 of breast cancer.
Lieberth-Osborn said Lytton got her wigs through Stewart’s Caring Place and her daughters, now 2 and 4, would come and use the Kids Room.
"It’s wonderful to have a place that is cheerful with toys and books. Kids are the lifeline for their families who are going through cancer," said Lieberth-Osborn, who spoke at the organization's gala and is daughter of former Akron deputy mayor and local historian David Lieberth.
Allio is also a volunteer. In April, with the help of an initial grant from the Stephen A. Comunale Jr. Family Cancer Fund, fund-raising on her own and personal funds, Allio began making "Laura’s Must-Have Mastectomy Bags." In them, she has about $500 worth of items that she said can add up that patients need after a mastectomy, but may not be able to afford.
Eight bags have been given out. The bags include PJs and bras that button or snap in the front, little pouches to hold on to drainage bags and anti-slip slippers.
Each also has a handwritten note from Allio. One said: "Sorry this is part of your life’s journey. You will see your scars as a sign of strength. You are one step closer to being cancer free. I hope the bag has emotional and physical strength."
Beacon Journal consumer columnist and medical reporter Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or email@example.com. Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ and see all her stories at www.ohio.com/betty