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When Compassion Can't Wait: One Mother's Story

Valerie Sobel, a refugee from Hungary's Communist era, established the Andre Sobel River of Life Foundation to honor the memory of her 19-year old son who died of a brain tumor in 1995. Within the year following the tragic loss of her son, she lost her mother, and, a year to the day after Andre's death, her beloved husband Erwin took his own life. Through the subsequent years of crushing grief, Sobel sought to redirect her life. She envisioned and founded the Andre Sobel River of Life Foundation to help single parents of seriously ill children in grave need of financial assistance. Under her guidance, over $3.7 million in grants has assisted 1,800 families in the past seven years through partnerships with pediatric hospitals across the country. Ms. Sobel was recently honored with the prestigious Los Angeles Business Journal's Women Making A Difference: 2007 Philanthropist of the Year Award.

Imagine losing your son to a brain tumor, your husband to suicide brought on by his grief, and your mother, all within the span of one year. For many, these cumulative and devastating tragedies would have been insurmountable challenges. But not for the incredibly strong, resilient, and giving Valerie Sobel. A survivor of the Hungary 1956 uprising against the Soviet communist regime, Valerie dug deep into her soul, and sought to redirect her life.

"What haunted me from the time of my son Andre's illness was looking into the faces of the children who were alone at his hospital: facing their fears, their pain, their treatments, and at times their own deaths-alone. Most often, these were children of single parent caregivers. In most cases, single mothers. This injustice was the motivation for me to envision and establish the Andre Sobel River of Life Foundation in 2000."

The Andre Sobel River of Life Foundation (ASRL) responds to single mothers whose children are experiencing a life-threatening medical crisis. The foundation works with 13 pre-selected pediatric medical facilities across the country whose social workers assess and recommend families to us for grant assistance.

When financial assistance offered by other resources has been exhausted, ASRL is able to respond to the immediate needs of these families promptly and without additional paperwork. ASRL responds to requests for assistance within 24 hours - a hallmark of the program - a reflection of my approach that "compassion can't wait." The variety of requests we receive can range from a wig for a self-conscious teenager returning to school after chemotherapy to an airline ticket for a grandparent's visit, or something more substantial like the funds to pay rent or protect a home from foreclosure. All is done without regard to race, religion, sex, citizenship, sexual orientation or national origin.

Over the past six years, we have made over $3.7 million in grants to assist 1,800 families (7,000 family members) with payments for rent, mortgages, utilities, transportation, and sadly, burials. One of the mothers that we have helped who has two teenage daughters, one of whom had a heart transplant, wrote to us:

"there are so many things to worry about, but the ASRL Foundation has relieved me of one of the biggest and allowed me to instead focus on the most important, and that is my girls."

Despite my own losses, it gives me enormous joy to be able to ease the burden of others, and I invite you to join me in supporting our mission.

I would like to invite you to help single caregivers of catastrophically ill children by making a contribution to ASRL's "When Compassion Can't Wait" campaign, a community effort to meet the needs of families of sick children in grave financial distress. Visit the Andre Sobel River of Life Foundation at www.andreriveroflife.org for more information and to make a contribution. I also am available to speak to your organization about overcoming life's gravest challenges, finding your passion, and establishing a mission-driven foundation.

Created: 7/19/2007  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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