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Amy’s Place Helps Whatcom’s Homeless Youth

The current economic situation in our country has prompted many people to tighten their purse strings, cutting out many of the little luxuries of life. But non-profit organizations don’t provide “luxuries” for the underprivileged in our community; they provide necessities for survival that many of us take for granted.

Amy's Place for Youth Kids of Amy’s Place for Youth with Congressman Rick Larsen.
Photo courtesy Heidi Unick

Amy’s Place for Youth, a not-for-profit organization that serves homeless youth in Whatcom County, is feeling the financial strain. Without an increase in donations from our community, Amy’s Place director Heidi Unick says that the organization will be forced to close before the holidays this year.

Amy’s Place opened in late 2006 as a drop-in center for street-involved youth. They’ve helped over a thousand different kids during the past four years.

“We’re open every Friday and Saturday from 6 to 11 PM,” Heidi said in a phone interview. “We offer kids a meal and there’s also a food pantry so they can take food with them. We have hygiene supplies, sleeping bags, clothes, and shoes for kids too.” The young visitors can also hear a presentation from various local agency representatives to learn about other support programs available in our community.

Their evening programs are segregated by age. The Friday night program is open for youth ages 18 to 24, while Saturday night is open for youth age 17 and under. On average, about 25 kids visit Amy’s Place during each session; about half are new to the program and half are returners. Of the 330 youths that have attended an Amy’s Place program this year, about 80 are in a homeless situation.

Amy's Place for Youth Wrapping presents during the holidays at Amy’s Place for Youth.
Photo courtesy Heidi Unick

“Many of the youth have left abusive home situations, but are often abused on the streets as well. Our volunteers provide mentorship for the kids, so they know that we care about what happens to them,” Heidi said.

Heidi went on to explain that many of these kids are afflicted with an illness or a chemical dependence, so it’s difficult for them to get a job or stay in school. For awhile, Amy’s Place offered a Tuesday program that provided educational support, but a lack of funding and volunteers forced them to discontinue the resource.

“Securing consistent funding for Amy’s Place has been a great challenge,” said Heidi. “We are grateful for tangible donations from organizations like St. Luke’s Foundation, which donated shelving, furniture, floor coverings, and more, but if we don’t have the money for next month’s rent, we cannot continue this program.”

The community is invited to learn more about supporting Amy’s Place at an Open House on Thursday, October 28, 2010 from 7 to 8:30 PM. Visitors can take a tour, listen to a presentation about Amy’s Place, and meet the volunteers and youth of Amy’s Place. The fun and informative event will also include a Dessert Auction.

To learn more about supporting Amy’s Place with your money or time, please visit their website or call (360) 671-5567 or (360) 920-0615.

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Childhood Cancer Awareness: Brandon’s Goal

By Kris Brauns (Brandon’s Mom)

My life was forever changed on February 4, 2003 and March 20, 2010. The former was the day that my son Brandon was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor; the latter was the day he passed away. The years in-between were filled with fear and hope, courage and humility, love and compassion, and pain and sorrow.

Brandon Brauns Brandon Brauns

September is National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and I want to share my story with you so that you will become just one more person better educated about this deadly disease.

Brandon was almost four years old when an emergency room doctor told us that he had a mass in his brain. I was not aware that children could get brain tumors. I spent most of that night watching my child sleep. We went to Children’s Seattle Hospital in the morning for an MRI and to meet with a surgeon.

On February 10, 2003, Brandon underwent a 12-hour surgery to remove half of the tumor. We were told that Brandon would not survive with 50% of the tumor remaining, and that we should enjoy our time together.

This scenario was unacceptable to us, so we found the best medical team in the country to treat our son. We spent the next three months in Memphis, Tennessee so Brandon could receive care from Dr. Tom Merchant. This decision gave Brandon two wonderful years of remission.

During that period of remission, Brandon had seven MRI checkups and each one showed that he was cancer free. Every MRI was preceded with loads of anxiety and feelings of elation for the following months.

Brandon was back in school and recovering well. He did have numerous deficits from the treatment. He had a left facial palsy, ate from a feeding tube for nine months, was unable to run like he used to, and lost his hair. The list goes on.

What I was thankful for was the gift of slowing down and seeing what is important: time with Brandon, sharing experiences, and enjoying the privilege of being his mom. Even though my life was horribly changed on February 4th, it also became filled with more love and feeling. I turned my cell phone off after work, left my laptop in its bag, and didn’t try to clean house while talking to my son. I would sit down and play with him, completely engaged in what we were doing.

During these seven, years, I educated myself about pediatric brain tumors. I didn’t know that cancer was now the #1 killer in children. I didn’t know that of those cancers, brain tumors killed more children each year than any other. I was shocked at these statistics. I felt so fortunate that Brandon’s life had been saved that I wanted to help others. We started a non-profit, Brandon’s Goal, to help other families, and we formed a support group for parents. Unfortunately, Brandon’s cancer returned and it became very aggressive. Brandon underwent several more surgeries, numerous radiation treatments, and painful chemotherapy. His life was full of doctor’s appointments, IVs, stitches, physical and mental deficits, and more.

Brandon started to feel isolated from his friends and was uncomfortable in large social settings. His friends would invite him out to a movie, but he would decline. Brandon wanted to stay home with his parents in the safety of his home.

It was heartbreaking to watch this disease take my child’s life away from him. What did make Brandon feel better was time with his family. During the last year of his life, we spent our time together by taking long drives, reading books, listening to music, drawing, watching movies, and inviting our family over for dinner.

Brandon suffered a severe brain event and seizure on March 15, 2009, one day after his tenth birthday. After this setback, it was clear that Brandon was losing the battle against his cancer.

Brandon’s goal was to beat his cancer and to help cure other children. He participated at fundraisers, spoke on the radio and at events, gave gifts to other sick children, and even organized a toy drive at Children’s Hospital during Christmas.

My goal was that he would survive to see his next birthday; he passed away at 8:29 AM, six days after his eleventh birthday.

Brandon’s celebration of life was attended by more than 850 people. His battle with cancer, his courage and humility, touched the lives of so many people. I have received letters and phone calls from all over the world about how Brandon changed their lives.

When someone says you can’t understand how it feels until it happens to you, nothing is truer than when you lose a child than in any other situation. I’m sharing my son’s story with you so that more people in our community will be aware of this deadly disease. By bringing awareness to childhood cancers, especially brain tumors, I hope that the support for finding a cure will increase. Pediatric cancers are the least funded cancers when it comes to research. I don’t wish my journey on any child, parent or family, so please help us find a cure for all pediatric cancers.

Visit to learn more about Brandon Brauns and the foundation created in his memory. The Brandon’s Goal website,, will be up and available to visit on September 25, 2010.

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Garden Spot Fundraiser for Blue Skies

July 29th update from Blue Skies: Thank you to all who attended An Evening in the Garden at the Garden Spot on Thursday July 23, 2009! The event raised over $2,000.00 for Blue Skies for Children.

Keep cool in the garden and help make dreams come true for low-income and foster children in Whatcom County at An Evening in the Garden, hosted by Marcy Plattner of The Garden Spot Nursery.

Garden Spot Fundraiser for Blue Skies Enjoy an evening in the garden at the Garden Spot Nursery.

On Thursday, July 23, 2009 from 6 to 9:30 PM, a $5 donation per person will get you and your family into the garden at 900 Alabama Street to enjoy an evening of music, a live auction, delicious appetizers and wine, and more in support of Blue Skies for Children.

One of the reasons Marcy and the staff at the Garden Spot wanted to host this event was the opportunity to share the garden in the evening twilight hours.

“We close around seven in the summer and people never get to see the garden in the evening light, which is really its most beautiful,” Marcy explained. She thinks the event will be a great chance for a celebration of the summer, and a way to raise funds for one of her favorite local organizations.

“I especially love Blue Skies’ Little Wishes program, which allows families to enjoy some of those special extras, like lessons or musical instrument rentals. Those kinds of enrichment opportunities are so important for kids,” Marcy said.

Live music for the evening is provided by Prozac Mountain Boys, a local Bellingham bluegrass band. Carpenter Creek Winery of Skagit Valley will also provide wine for tasting ($5 per glass), coupled with light appetizers.

Another source of entertainment will be cheering on Mayor Dan Pike and County Executive Pete Kremen as they dig in the dirt to design and plant a potted container garden. Their works will then be available for purchase at a silent auction to benefit Blue Skies for Children, as well as other potted plants. Or, you purchase plants, pots, garden art, or flowers directly from the Garden Spot to enjoy at home.

Kids are welcome at this event to enjoy the music and light snacks. Families will even be able to toast marshmallows for s’mores.

To find out more, call the Garden Spot at (360) 676-5480 or Blue Skies for Children at (360) 756-6710.

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