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connect / 2021

Virtual Platform to support children impacted by cancer

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Grants Challenge by Walk With Sally

Walk With Sally transformed the virtual community, based on cancer's shared experience to improve health outcomes, specifically better psychological well-being, for cancer-affected families. Our pivot during the pandemic to meet the urgent needs of our families demonstrated deep impact through art healing, mindfulness, enrichment programs, deepening relationships through activities, roundtables, and workshops. Knowing we could not break our promise to the families we serve, we created an innovative virtual community.

In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?

  • County of Los Angeles
  • LAUSD (select only if you have a district-wide partnership or project)

What is the problem that you are seeking to address?

Our youth-initiated mentoring model is based on the power of cancer’s shared experience, bringing an immediate, long-lasting bond to relationships; our goal is to share our virtual platform with every child who needs our services. When our kids were compelled to adapt to virtual learning and cope with isolation, mentoring and community became more critical than ever. Our kids impacted by cancer need a positive community to connect with, as many of them have lasting social isolation issues, anxiety, in addition to being in immunocompromised homes. Worry and isolation will only increase long-term mental health problems. Our mentors and the team have stepped up and are providing a positive and healthy relationship and connection. Technology allows us to continue to bring our community of kids impacted by cancer together and be an essential part of our kids’ well-being. We want to bring that collective story of cancer together in a positive healing way, more globally than we have before.

Describe the project, program, or initiative that this grant will support to address the problem identified.

As the world changed around us this past year, we set goals to ensure the pandemic’s effects would not impact our program and expanded with fewer monetary and staff resources. Our demographic is historically underserved, and the pandemic only magnified the disparities and racial divides. We learned to do more with less money and staff; however, our immunocompromised families will be forever devastated by job loss, anxiety, poverty, and isolation. During an exploding demand for service, our programs are being thought of on a continuum of care, falling somewhere between more intensive professional care and an exceptional teacher’s informal support. We saw an immediate need to bring our community together virtually and exist as the hub of urgent resources and basic needs. We took action to move our communities into the Zoom space through meditation, art healing, dance parties, and mentor connections. Our goal is to aggregate the Walk With Sally’s mission through a global network in order to recruit more families and mentors, as well as serve those who wouldn’t otherwise have access. We are keenly thinking of demographics we are not reaching due to overwhelming obstacles and removing those through technology. Potential to create a new pod of community while changing the model for efficiency and cost savings through analytics.

In what stage of innovation is this project, program, or initiative?

Expand existing project, program, or initiative (expanding and continuing ongoing, successful work)

Approximately how many people will be impacted by this project, program, or initiative?

Direct impact
Indirect impact

Describe how Los Angeles County will be different if your work is successful.

As our youth struggle with isolation due to immunocompromised family members, challenges, and hardships related to the pandemic, youth mentoring is more critical today than at any other time in recent history. Safe, stable, and nurturing relationships and environments can be protective for kids who are experiencing adversity. Sometimes it only takes is one person to make a difference in that child’s entire future. Our families need consistent love, nurturing, and support to combat the trauma our families face. When one person mentors, two people benefit, there is a radical transformation and our community becomes infinitely stronger. A mentor can be a critical healer of adverse childhood experiences that have proved to be responsible for so much pain in a child’s cancer journey. Our vision is to positively lift and impact all those in need throughout Los Angeles County, and ensure no child walks alone in the face of a loved one’s cancer.

What evidence do you have that this project, program, or initiative is or will be successful, and how will you define and measure success?

Cancer changes everything for families and can have a significant impact on children and teens. These high rates of post-traumatic stress among siblings included emotional reactions such as fear, worry, sadness, helplessness, anger, guilt, and social and academic difficulties. Our surveys include questions about academic performance, emotional and behavioral development, and the mentee’s future goals as a result of their Mentor relationship and the WWS program. Results demonstrated that since being in our program, 83% of mentees have opened up about their feelings, 72% felt more confident, 89% felt less lonely, 89% felt like they now had a support system, 67% felt better able to control their temper or outbursts, 78% were interested in volunteering, 44% were interested in leadership roles, 78% felt better able to cope, 89% felt less stressed or anxious, and 100% were more often in a better mode and better able to handle change.

Which of the connect metrics will you impact?​

  • Social and emotional support
  • Volunteerism

Indicate any additional LA2050 goals your project will impact.

  • LA is the healthiest place to LIVE