‘Friends of Christian’ Organization Continues Mission to Help Families of Children with Serious Health Issues

| March 7, 2019

VENANGO CO., Pa. (EYT) – After the “Friends of Christian” Organization’s first event in 2013 was over, the group realized their mission had just begun.

The “Friends of Christian” organization is now in its seventh year of helping local families of children with severe health conditions.

The group first formed in 2013 to organize a fundraiser for a Knox area youth, Christian Burgdofer (pictured below), who was battling Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS). POTS is a condition where a person’s blood stays in the lower part of the body when the person stands up, causing the heart to beat faster to try to get blood to the brain, making the person’s blood pressure drop significantly.

Christian Burgdorfer

According to co-founder and president Michele Savory, the initial event transpired after Christian was first diagnosed. Since Christian’s mother was one of Michele’s close friends, she decided to organize a fundraiser to help the family with the expenses.

“They were going to doctors and Children’s Hospital and specialists, and it was starting to take up a lot of time and resources,” Savory said. “She (Christian’s mother) was concerned about all of the time off work and the resources it was taking up, and I got the idea to do a fundraiser for them, to help them out with the expenses.”

“I had heard about another group in another county that had done a benefit poker run for the same kind of situation and raised a good amount of money, and my husband and I ride motorcycles, so I asked him. He started making calls to friends, and before he could even get done explaining, they said they were in.”

That first year, they began planning in August to hold the event in October. They created not only the poker run but also a pig roast and a Chinese auction, which all came together to raise over $2,500.00 for the Burgdofer family.

While they originally planned for a one-time event, once it was over, they realized it wasn’t really over.

“Everyone who jumped in and helped us asked if we were doing it again, and from there, it just blossomed,” Savory said. “Basically, this was born out of one friend wanting to help another friend out, and it’s just grown and blossomed from there.”

They formed a board of directors and named trustees, and a few years later they became an official LLC designated nonprofit recognized in the state of Pennsylvania. Since then, they have gone a step further, and last year they officially became a recognized 501c3 nonprofit organization.

“That opened a lot of avenues because some businesses are more willing to donate or sponsor now because they can make it a tax deduction.”

Over the years, they’ve continued to grow and also refine their process for choosing a family to benefit from their big annual event. They require nominees to be a family with a child or children, from birth to 18 years of age as of the nomination deadline, who has a chronic or terminal illness and currently resides in Clarion, Venango, or Jefferson County.

According to Savory, they didn’t receive many nominations over the first few years, but as word has spread and the event has grown, so has the nomination pool. Last year, they received 14 nominations, the most they’ve ever received.

Once they receive all of the nominations, they have a committee that begins to narrow them down, and then they interview several families, in person, to make a final decision.

“Part of the process is getting them comfortable with us, and letting them know we’re not here to invade their life, we’re here to help.”

There have also been a few other changes to the event over the years. They’ve changed their menu for the event a bit, to reduce waste, and have added a number of sponsors over the years.

“Our largest sponsor is Knichel Logistics out of Gibsonia. We got to know Kristy Knichel, the president and CEO, and she really likes our organization and that we help kids,” Savory noted.

“We also have local sponsors, too. We’ve had great support from Vinny’s, which is now Infusion; they’ve continued supporting us since year one. The Iron Mountain Grille has also supported us since year one. We tend to revisit a lot of places along our ride every year, and they’re always happy to have us. It’s just great to build relationships like that.”

Although they visit many of the same stops, they do vary the route for the ride each year.

Friends-of-Christian-2018

“We like to mix it up, and give people the opportunity to ride different routes.”

Savory also noted that the event relies heavily on the participation of the local motorcycle community.

“We enjoy reciprocal relationships with Clarion County A.B.A.T.E. and Friends of the Flag out of Brookville. We volunteer for them and they volunteer for us, and we share each other’s events on our Facebook pages,” she said.

“The motorcycle community is really amazing. I watch the biggest, baddest bikers, who most people wouldn’t even approach on the street, cry when they hear about these families. I watch them give out their hard-earned dollars because this is for a kid in need, and they don’t want to see these families struggling. A lot of people see a group on motorcycles and think ‘dirty bikers,’ but motorcycle riders donate more to charities and fundraisers than almost any other group or organization. They are our lifeblood, and we see those same faces year after year.”

The riders and the sponsors aren’t the only familiar faces seen from year to year. Friends of Christian also has their own photographer on board.

“Carey Dunham-Miholics of CM Photography volunteers her time every year and spends the day with us and takes tons of pictures for us and gives them to us on a disc. We really couldn’t capture the day that way without her,” Savory said.

The event has been steadily growing over the years, having raised just over $2,500.00 the first year, then over $3,000.00 each year from 2014 to 2017, and over $4,000.00 last year, when the recipient was 16-year-old Nattie Booth, of Marble, who is living with mitochondrial disease, (Nattie is pictured below, in white, with her sister Noelle).

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Now, the “Friends of Christian” are seeking nominations for their 2019 event, which is slated for Sunday, July 28.

Those who want to nominate someone can send a nomination to the groups Facebook page at www.facebook.com/FriendsOfChristian/.

The nomination should include a good contact name and phone number for the organization to reach out to the family as well as information about where nominee resides, the nominee’s age, and, if known, information about the recipient’s medical condition.

Nominations will be accepted until May 1, 2019.

2014 recipients, the Miller family, whose two sons, Caden and Connor, both suffer from serious medical conditions, including neurofibromatosis and cerebral palsy.

2014 recipients, the Miller family, whose two sons, Caden and Connor, both suffer from serious medical conditions, including neurofibromatosis and cerebral palsy.

2015 recipients, the Rossey family, who's son Thomas

2015 recipients, the Rossey family, who’s son Thomas struggled with epilepsy.

2016 recipients, the Smith family, whose daughters, Aiyanna and Heyden, suffer from a seizure disorder and a congenital heart condition.

2016 recipients, the Smith family, whose daughters, Aiyanna and Heyden, suffer from a seizure disorder and a congenital heart condition.

2017 recipient D.J. Graham

2017 recipient D.J. Graham who was born with heart defects.


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