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Me Fine, Doing Fine

Elizabeth Diaz, the Programs Coordinator for the Me Fine Foundation, does most of the leg work to help the Foundation find sources of funding and locate those in need of assistance. Diaz recently celebrated the receipt of a grant from the Johnston County Community Foundation, which will be used to help assist local families with gravely ill children. (NL photo by Cate)
By John Cate

Eight years ago, the Princeton area lost one of its youngest, but bravest residents, when Folden Lee IV lost his battle with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) when he was just short of three years old.
He only lost a battle, though. Despite their grief and loss, Folden’s mother Lori, along with several relatives, friends of the family, and admirers of his struggle against cancer picked up the torch. On Sept. 1, 2004, they founded the Me Fine Foundation—an organization dedicated to helping other gravely ill children and their families to overcome those illnesses.
Now, having helped 710 families and counting, Me Fine Foundation is still based in Princeton, still going strong, and about to celebrate its eighth birthday.
“The first of September will be our eighth anniversary,” said Elizabeth Diaz, the group’s Programs Coordinator, who gets to share the good news with families when Me Fine comes to their aid. “Our grassroots-based little foundation right here in Princeton has made it for eight years. Most nonprofits don’t make it out of their first couple of years.”
The Foundation takes its name from the reassurance that Folden offered his mother throughout his fight with leukemia. During the 18 months that he fought the disease, receiving bone marrow transplants, chemotherapy and a myriad of other tests and procedures, he was often tired and worn out. Lori Lee would ask him how he was feeling, and Folden would always respond, “Me fine, mommy!”
“On the day that Folden died, Lori decided she would start this foundation,” Diaz said. “The day your child gets sick, the rest of the world stops to a parent, but your light bill doesn’t stop, your car payments don’t stop, and you still have to have car insurance. “Families have lost their homes, their cars, and their jobs because their child gets sick, and there’s not much assistance out there.”

Going where help is most needed
Me Fine Foundation does most of its work at the Duke and UNC children’s hospitals, where it offers assistance to anyone in need. Many of the families have been from Johnston County, but it has also helped dozens of families from across North Carolina and even some from outside the United States—in one case, a family from Japan who had come here from treatment received help.
“There are cases where someone lives in another part of the country, or the world, and they can only get treatment at Duke or UNC,” said Diaz. “You might live in California and have to drop everything and come here for treatment, and you’ll need help. So we don’t put any limits on who we serve.”
There’s no limit on what they’ll help with, either.
“We help kids with cancer, heart diseases, genetic diseases, premature children having pulmonary and airway issues. We help them in any way we can,” said Diaz. “We’ve provided gas cards, things as simple as diapers and baby wipes, helped pay for light bills and water bills, even paid hospital parking fees, which aren’t cheap.”
Sometimes, they even help everyone have a little fun. During the fall, Me Fine Foundation frequently obtains tickets to UNC football games for sponsors.
“It gives the children and their families a break from being poked and prodded and X-rayed, and that matters a lot,” Diaz said. “It’s comforting to go out and just watch a football game with the family. Even if you’re not into football, it’s a break from the hospital routine.”

Local recognition and help
Diaz, who coordinates the assistance given out by the Me Fine Foundation, recently got some good news when she learned that the Johnston County Community Foundation, an affiliate of the North Carolina Community Foundation, would be awarding Me Fine a grant for the 2012 calendar year. Between 2009 and 2011, the JCCF had awarded nearly $250,000 in grants and scholarships to help people and non-profit organizations in Johnston County. Me Fine Foundation had been one of the recipients during 2009, as well.
“It’s very significant for them to award us a grant,” she said. “A lot of different organizations apply for grants every year, and compared to Princeton, Clayton is huge, and Smithfield is huge. So for us to be recognized in Princeton means a lot.
“The Johnston County grant can only be used to help Johnston County families, and we do have a couple of families with children facing life-threatening illnesses right now in Johnston County,” she added. “This is great. I was very excited to get the grant.”

Second Hope equals hope for sick children
Many local residents have interacted with and helped the Me Fine Foundation without even realizing it. Me Fine’s offices are located in the Second Hope Shop, located on U.S. Highway 70 a couple of miles north of the Princeton business district. The Second Hope Shop, a second-hand store, is owned and operated by the Foundation and plays a major role in its operations.
Having the Second Hope Shop as an adjunct to the Foundation makes more of a difference than many people realize. Sales from Second Hope bring in enough money to pay for the cost of building, utilities and staff expenses for the Me Fine Foundation. Because of this, donations made to Me Fine can go completely toward helping families facing a medical crisis, and not have to be used to maintain the Foundation itself.  
“The Second Hope Shop is one of the main parts of the Me Fine Foundation. It covers all of the overhead costs of the Foundation, which is a huge, huge thing,” said Diaz.

Want to help?
The easiest way to help the Me Fine Foundation keep helping sick children is with a donation to the Second Hope Shop.
The Shop is always happy to accept donations of used clothing, household items or used furniture. They say there is a market for most anything, and that donations are tax deductible to the amount provided by law. A receipt can be issued for any donation. See for more information on making a donation.
If you’d like to help out by shopping and making a purchase, the shop is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 1-5 p.m. on Sunday.
There are also several ways to make a direct or in-kind contribution directly to the Me Fine Foundation. See for information on how to make a donation.

December 2010 Editions
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