By Zandree Stidham, Longmont Magazine
Just two and a half years ago, Boulder residents, Allison Yacht and husband, Steven, were like many families living in the shadow of the Front Range. Steven was building a life and career in accounting in the bustling heart of Denver, and Allison was enjoying her tenth year as a database consultant for her own company, Shift 7 Consulting. The Yachts were happily raising their two beautiful children, Meredith and Zach, who were, at that time, four and nine. And then there was cancer.
On the first Friday of June, 2011, after a few months of various illnesses and inconclusive medical appointments, four-year old Meredith woke up with a black eye. A few hours later, she was rushed to surgery to remove the tumor that had crept its way from her left sinus, down her nasal cavity, and into her throat and ear. By Monday, June 6, the diagnosis was finally conclusive. Meredith had rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare cancer affecting around only 300 patients in the U.S. each year, 60 – 70% of whom are children. That early summer day in June, the Yacht family began a harrowing journey through the ins and outs of childhood cancer, a journey that led to new experiences, new community, and a new venture born out of an understanding of what it’s like to have to fight to keep hope and out of a desire to help the over 13,000 children who will be diagnosed with cancer in the US this year alone. On June 1, 2013, BraveHoods was born.
As Allison held the hand of her then five-year old daughter through chemotherapy and all its predictable and unpredictable effects, the need for a unique type of clothing for Meredith began to surface.
“During her time in chemotherapy,” Yacht said, “Meredith needed comfortable clothing; something that could protect her head from the sun and cut down on staring and that could easily be taken off when she came inside with friends and classmates.” After finding a workable solution for Meredith, Yacht knew that there had to be other kids out there like her daughter, kids in the middle of a battle for their own lives who could benefit from comfortable, calming clothing with hoods. Allison began to toy with the idea of starting a company to address this need, and in the summer of 2012, she purchased a web page and laid the plans to start producing hoodies for children out of her own home, selecting Children’s Hospital, where Meredith began her treatment, as her first donation site. Today, BraveHoods come in white, black, brown, and pink, in long and short sleeves, and in children’s and adult sizes. Supporters can choose from one of three positive messages designed, in Yacht’s words, to help kids feel like superheroes when they wear them: “It’s all good in my brave hood,” “Veni, Vidi, Vici.” (“I came, I saw, I conquered.”), and “Future Cancer Survivor.” All of the hoodies are made in from 100% cotton and range in price from $19.99 to $39.99. The shirts are printed in Boulder and are still shipped directly from the Yacht’s living room. “Shipping,” Yacht says, “is a family affair. Everyone pitches in.” Since the inception of BraveHoods, Yacht has adopted a one-for-one model similar to that of TOMS shoes. Anyone can order a hoodie from BraveHoods.com, and for each hoodie ordered, one will be donated to a child who has been diagnosed with cancer. The Yacht family will even send a free hoodie to a sibling of the child who was diagnosed.
Currently, BraveHoods has a goal of giving away 1,300 hoodies to reach 10% of the population of children diagnosed with cancer each year. So far, Allison and her family have donated over 400 shirts with several more projects in the works. In addition to her donations to Children’s Hospital, Yacht has also donated hoodies and hope to young patients at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, another site for Meredith’s treatment, and to other children and families across the nation who have contacted the Yacht family through the BraveHoods website. In order to move more quickly toward her goal, Yacht is currently establishing relationships with the Jimmy Fund, a cancer research support organization out of Boston, A Patient Helping Patients, an organization serving children with cancer at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, and St. Jude’s Children’s Hospitals, nationwide.
Yacht describes the reception of BraveHoods both in her home community of Boulder and in the broader community of families fighting childhood cancer much like she describes her experience with family, friends, and even strangers during her own daughter’s treatment: humbling. Allison had abundant support from family and had many friends, acquaintances, and even community members whom Yacht had never even met reach out during this time. “So many people just wanted to help,” says Yacht. “BraveHoods allows for that help to happen in a very tangible way.” Allison’s ultimate goal is to offer hope to families in cancer-crises. “Hope is so important,” she says to families with children battling cancer, “never forget to ask for help, and ask for hope.”