The mission of the Forrest Spence Fund is to assist with the non-medical needs of critically or chronically ill children and their families throughout the Mid-South. But this past Saturday, it wasn't their mission that stood out to me. Me and my little girl were surrounded by 1400 plus people at 7:00 in the morning at the Memphis Botanic Gardens. In this sea of people in the heart of Memphis, I saw something that we rarely see in the news. As a matter of fact, I saw no reporters on hand at all. What I did see were lots of happy Memphians from every race and walk of life. There were no sad stories, no parking fees, no one selling food, or tickets to the events for kids. Everywhere you looked, all you could see were families having a greatSaturday morning. For me as a dad, seeing my little girl having the time of her life was priceless. Sky and I ran our first race together, no it wasn't the 5k. We did the one-mile race with hundreds of others and had a blast.
This was not the first event for the Forrest Spence Fund. The organization host three events per year. This was the tenth anniversary of their 5k. Something else I couldn't help but notice, the event staff and volunteers were having a blast. There were no signs of stress anywhere. I sat down with Brittany to talk about the race and her organization. What I learned from this event was a simple lesson that I think all non-profits need to consider. First, let me share with you the story behind this amazing organization.
About the Organization
The Forrest Spence Fund is an official 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that was founded in 2007 in memory of Robert Forrest Spence. The mission of the Fund is to assist with the non-medical needs of critically or chronically ill children and their families throughout the Mid-South.
In honor of Forrest, the organization strives to support families dealing with similar difficult situations and to give back to regional children's hospitals like Le Bonheur Children's Hospital, Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt, and St. Jude Children's Hospital, where the amazing medical staff fights for thousands of children each year.
The Forrest Spence Fund begins with the story of Brittany and David Spence's first child, Robert Forrest Spence, born on September 10, 2007. Shortly after birth Forrest developed complications and was transported to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Le Bonheur Children's Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, where he fought valiantly for life for 55 days before his illness overtook him. While in the PICU, Forrest and his family underwent an indescribable journey of highs and lows. Amidst the daily struggles, the Spences were met with a compassion and love that gave them hope and helped them survive the most difficult journey of their lives. It was in these times that they tasted deeply of the kindness of friends and perfect strangers. It was often that kindness that sustained them, as they grew weary. Days before Forrest life came to an end, David Spence decided he wanted to start an organization to help others in memory of his son. Brittany Spence was not so sure she could make it through this, let alone relive this by sharing this story year after year with others. But David and Brittany committed to fight for their young marriage and fight for the memory of their son Forrest.
Empathy. Understanding. Hope. Hard-work! The Lesson.
As a couple, David and Brittany now have three more children. They have worked hard for their marriage despite being told that most likely their young marriage would not be able to withstand the loss they had just gone through. But this is where the magic of Brittany Spence takes over. This is where we find the lessons of this amazing couple and the organization that was born in memory of young Robert Forrest Spence.
Empathy, understanding, hope, and hard-work are at the heart of everything they do at the Forrest Spence Fund. Brittany and David develop these qualities into everyone that joins in their cause. The volunteers, the supporters, the racers, and even the Spence children are inspired to share these qualities. You see it in the details of everything they do. People don't come to their 5k just to raise money, they come because Brittany set out to create a great event for families that just happened to also be a fundraiser. The lesson for other non-profits is simple. There are thousands of non-profits in our city. Every one of them has a great story and a great mission and needs to raise money. The lesson here is to remember that people can spend their money anywhere and as great as your cause might be, you have got to give people a real reason to get involved. Creating events that give people something they want can do amazing things for your organization. So be creative and come up with events that people come to because they are going to have a great time. Pay attention to the details, look at the event as your product. Would you pay to attend your event even if there was not a "giving back" cause associated with it? Brittany organized things in a way that once you paid your fee for the event, you had no other cost to encounter once you got there. This allowed kids to just play and have fun, no let me get my wallet. This detail may seem small, but it created one of the best fundraising environments I have ever seen. The benefits of flawless planning can be seen in the event attendance. Each year the 5k gets bigger and bigger. For the first eight years, Brittany oversaw every detail. For the last couple years, she has brought in Start 2 Finish Event Management to help with the actual race management and these guys did an amazing job!
Brittany set out to create a great time for families of Memphis on a Saturday morning, what she got was a great event that just happened to help assist with the non-medical needs of critically or chronically ill children and their families throughout the Mid-South.
Photos for this story were provided by Ryan Vu Nguyen owner of VnG Photography