For 16 years, Wonders & Worries has helped Austin families cope, persevere and heal.
By Lauren Jones, Photos courtesy of Wonders & Worries
For some, cancer may seem like an alienating diagnosis, but at Wonders & Worries, a nonprofit that has been serving the Central Texas community since 2001, families are supported every step of the way. As the only nonprofit of its kind in the country, Wonders & Worries has the primary mission of helping children cope when a parent is diagnosed with a severe illness.
“We want to ensure that children and teens continue succeeding even though their parent is going through an illness,” says Development Director Lindsey Boyd. “Building a foundation of emotional resiliency allows them to reach their full potential.”
Every year, the organization works with 250 to 300 families, and in 75 percent of those cases, one parent has been diagnosed with cancer. From individual and group therapy sessions with trained child-life specialists to family-focused fun events, Wonders & Worries is there to offer services through the duration of a parent’s illness. All at no cost to the families.
Wonders & Worries has five offices and also provides phone support.
Families come to Wonders & Worries through different sources.
“Sometimes school counselors will refer a family if they’ve noticed changes in grades or behavior,” Boyd says. “We also have medical providers like Texas Oncology and Seton that reach out to us.”
After a family is referred to the organization, the matching process begins.
“A main component is geography,” says Communications Director Penney Berryman. “We all know that it’s hard to get around Austin, so where families live is a big consideration.”
Once families are matched, the real work begins. For Wonders & Worries, helping kids open up about their emotions as they pertain to a parent’s illness is key, but the goal is also to ensure kids fully understand what is happening.
“There is often a difference in what the child understands or is told versus what is actually happening,” Berryman says, noting, for instance, one family with three sons, ages 15, 12 and 10 who came to Wonders & Worries after the mother was diagnosed with cancer. “The parents sat them down to talk and, among other things, asked the boys to be more sanitary and not stick their fingers in the peanut-butter jar anymore because Mom was sick. After that, the youngest son stopped eating peanut butter because he thought he was going to get cancer too if he ate after his mom.”
Stories like that are not uncommon at Wonders & Worries. In another instance, a child believed radiation made people glow in the dark. During group therapy sessions, child-life specialists work with children to help them better understand the diseases their parents are fighting.
“We forget that children are so literal,” Boyd says. “Our child-life specialists have studied disease and child development , so they are uniquely qualified to teach the kids about what is actually going on with their parent’s illness in age-appropriate ways.”
For families that aren’t able to visit one of the five offices for support, Wonders & Worries is working to extend its reach via virtual support and even offers school sessions and Saturday hours.
“About 35 percent of our families make $50,000 or less, which is reflective of Travis County’s population,” Boyd says. “For those families, we will travel to work with them.”
While Wonders & Worries primarily serves Central Texas families, the organization is working to spread the word about the services it offers. Every year, Wonders & Worries hosts the No Worries Classic, a team sporting-clay event that raises money and awareness for the organization. Founded in 2008 by Austinite Mike Reynolds, the event features 20 teams of five shooters who solicit donations and pledges.
“It all began when Mike Reynolds became involved in our organization,” Boyd says, noting his mother was diagnosed with cancer when he was in his 20s, and he wanted to spread awareness for the organization’s mission.
This year’s No Worries Classic is Oct. 20 at Texas Disposal System’s Exotic Game Ranch.
“To date the event has raised $2.5 million dollars for Wonders & Worries,” Boyd says. “It is something we are very proud of.”
The money the event raises goes directly to funding Wonders & Worries as it continues to help families in Central Texas grow stronger together.
For more information about Wonders & Worries and the No Worries Classic, visit wondersandworries.org.