Helping children and families, connecting community, and having fun are the core objectives of this energetic nonprofit started by a group of friends from West Hartford’s Conard High School.
By Tracey Weiss
What started as a small basketball tournament to raise money for a sick friend has evolved into the nonprofit Ball 4 a Cure, a major supporter of Connecticut Children’s Medical Center and the community.
While the mission of this nonprofit organization is “uniting communities to support the patients and families battling pediatric cancer,” it’s important to Luke Reynolds and his six co-founding partners that everyone who supports what they do has fun. Reynolds is the director of community engagement for Ball 4 a Cure.
“To realize the impact the greater good can do while having a blast” is key, Reynolds said. The events they run “should be something you circle on the calendar and look forward to,” he added. “It’s been a great experience as we grow to remain true to the mission and use events to link the community.”
In the beginning, “we started as a group of West Hartford students who wanted to come together to benefit a classmate battling cancer,” Reynolds said. “We had no mindset going in.”
That classmate was Seamus Turco, who was diagnosed with lymphoblastic lymphoma – a blood cancer – in late 2014. His mother, Helen Rubino-Turco, is forever grateful for the hard work of the Ball 4 a Cure co-founders.
“Perhaps without understanding the impact of their effort, what started as a gesture was especially comforting and empowering for us as a family,” she said. “Through them, we felt our community’s support. We’ve learned that there’s a story behind every door. Everyone has something going on. But in West Hartford, there’s also a community of friends, acquaintances, and even strangers who care. Not every family has such a supportive community,” Rubino-Turco said.
“Although they were in different grades and weren’t close friends with our boys,” she continued, “these kids went to the same elementary school and their families were tied to ours in some way. I coached a few of them in soccer, and some of their moms played soccer with me. They wanted to help, so they started Ball 4 a Cure …”
BBall and T-shirts
The very first basketball “3-on-3” tournament was in 2015. “We charged $15 person and had pizza, soda, and you got a T-shirt for your entry fee,” Reynolds said. Proceeds from the event were $1,500. “We just wanted to raise awareness.”
But the friends – also including Brendan Connors, Tommy Jamin, Brian O’Shea, Aidan Stabnick, Cole Stabnick, Max Kraimer, and Will Dorsey – realized the potential. “We were in college, all still best friends,” Reynolds said. “We set a date the second year and added a kids bracket with co-ed teams. We, as a group, started to get more serious. We started to hold the basketball tournaments alternately at Hall and Conard. Anyone could come.”
When COVID hit, they did Golf 4 a Cure instead of a basketball event. It stuck – and now they hold a golf tournament every year. This year, the event raised $28,776.
More events were added to the annual rotation, like the Jam 4 a Cure, a live music show with food and drinks, first held at GastroPark in 2021. It has since moved to Parkville Market in Hartford.
“GastroPark was an amazing partner our first year and we loved kicking off the start of a new tradition in our hometown and at a place that was just opening to the community,” Reynolds said. “Unfortunately, there is a max capacity at GastroPark that we had surpassed going into our next year.”
The jam “was one of the best things we ever did, in terms of growth and inclusivity,” Reynolds said. This summer, Lonesome Eddie and the Bird Dogs, Big Honey, and Earl on Earth performed for hundreds of event-goers, who came dressed for the Western-themed event that raised $22,221.
Bowl 4 a Cure was introduced in 2021, and “225 happy bowlers came for the first one, so it has become an annual event,” Reynolds said. “It’s more of a family event. My parents love playing in that.” Always held the Saturday after Thanksgiving, there’s still time to register for that event at Callahan’s Bowl-O-Rama in Newington – and if you don’t bowl, there’s always an “afterparty” at a local watering hole. Details can be found on the website.
And tickets are on sale for their inaugural New Year’s Gala, kicking off at 8:30 p.m. on Dec. 31 at the Delamar West Hartford. The evening will include an open bar, food, and music, and of course, a toast to the New Year. “It commemorates a year of philanthropy and community,” Reynolds added.
Partnerships and Superheroes
“It’s been a great experience as we grow, to remain true to the mission,” Reynolds said, “and use events to link the community.”
When Ball 4 a Cure received its nonprofit status in 2019, they partnered with the Children’s Foundation at the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, creating the Ball 4 a Cure Family Support Fund.
“The Family Support Fund benefits low-income families in need by providing them with things they need so they can focus on their family and their sick child,” Reynolds said. “We work with the social workers there. We pay for rent, for medical equipment, we’ve even purchased a washer and dryer for one family. I love the empathic moments when I meet the staff at the hospital. A nurse said to me, ‘You don’t know what a relief your fund is to parents. Having your funding is how we can help them.’”
The programs also offer support for new initiatives at the hospital “that include sensory deprivation therapy, adolescent & young adult welcome packages and event management & marketing assistance for CT Children’s Hospital Development Team,” according to the Ball 4 a Cure website.
“I love the impact we make at the hospital,” said Brian O’Shea. He is one of the original seven friends and serves as the director of operations for Ball 4 a Cure. “I love the family support and helping families to pay their bills. We visit the hospital twice a year to see how the money we raised is going to work. I love seeing how appreciative the staff is. It’s cool to be a part of it. We work on helping the people who need it right now, who are going through it. We are always so focused on the research.”
“I cannot say enough good things about working with them,” Reynolds said about the staff at Connecticut Children’s Foundation. The feeling is mutual for Erika Glebocki, the Associate Manager of Philanthropic Events for Connecticut Children’s Foundation.
“One of my greatest pleasures is working with the partner organizations,” she said. “Several years ago, my boss had the idea of creating a superheroes event. On Superhero Day at the medical center, we honor our staff and the children at the hospital, but we wanted to bring an event to the community.
“At the time, we had just connected with Ball 4 a Cure, and started to have conversations with them about partnering for an event. We knew they were passionate about helping families and so a wonderful partnership was formed.”
Then COVID came, and the event was put on hold, until this year. “Finally, we had our inaugural event,” Glebocki added. “It was incredible. It’s a way to bring the community and health system together in a lighthearted way and to support the work everyone does.”
The inaugural Superhero Sunday 5K & Community Bash was held at Bushnell Park on April 30. “It was very wet, but everyone came anyway,” Glebocki said. “It was such a great time. We had a 5K walk, run and roll (strollers and wheelchairs), live music, food, make your own cape or mask, a scavenger hunt and more. Connecticut Children’s was represented and different departments provided information on how they keep the community healthy and safe.”
The event raised $52,000. Glebocki said plans are in the works for next year’s Superhero Sunday on April 28, 2024. “I am in awe of the philanthropic mindset of the members of Ball 4 a Cure and their dedication to the community and to each other. They have this energy that makes you want to work harder. They’re a bright light.”
Cole Stabnick, the creative director of Ball 4 a Cure, would like to see more events like Superhero Sunday take place,” he said. “It was pouring rain and it was still a smashing success. I would like for us to get into an even deeper relationship with the hospital. And do events that are specifically for the kids at the hospital. It’s rewarding because we get to bring the community together. It’s community building.”
“What Ball 4 a Cure does is nothing short of amazing,” Seamus Turco said. “Cancer affects the family almost as much as it affects the patient. It’s awesome that they focus on the families. CT Children’s is really good with caring for the patients and making them safe. Families, especially families with other kids, need help. A little bit of support goes a long way. I love attending the Ball 4 a Cure events – they are full of positive energy. The guys all want to know how I’m doing. It’s nice to connect with them face to face and thank them for their efforts.”
Future 4 a Cure plans
Ball 4 a Cure has plans for the future, some of which is already taking place. “We are starting to expand the program and offer the event model to universities such as University of Rhode Island and University of Maryland,” Reynolds said. “We give them the guidance to run it properly.”
Stabnick would like to pull more volunteers into the planning process. “It would be exciting to see our roles shrink and get more of the community involved in the planning,” he said. “Create committees and get more people involved who have ideas to bring to the table.”
Another step? Hiring a grant writer to start receiving grant funding – and do even more.
For now, O’Shea’s advice is good: “Seeing everyone come together is amazing to watch, so support us. Come to events and make a donation.”
A version of this story previously appeared in West Hartford LIFE.
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