AZ Nonprofits: Six Questions for Chrisie Funari of The Arizona Cancer Foundation for Children

Marilyn HawkesAugust 3, 2022
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Chrisie Funari founded The Arizona Cancer Foundation for Children in 2014 after losing her daughter, Ava, to cancer in 2012. Funari serves as president of the nonprofit, which provides social, emotional and financial support to families who have a child with cancer. She started the foundation out of her home and has since expanded to a second office. Recently, the organization purchased a 12,000 square-foot-building near Scottsdale Road and Shea Boulevard to house all their services and programs under one roof. “We’re helping hundreds of families every year.”

What kinds of services do you provide?
We provide financial assistance, which is one of the biggest struggles that families face when their child is diagnosed with cancer. We also offer counseling services. We have a canine therapy dog program with five dogs that volunteer with us and an in-office dog that’s always here. Then, we also offer sunshine experiences where the family comes into our center and they get to shop in our Sunshine Boutique and do art projects, while the parents/guardians get a break.

Tell me about Ava’s Treehouse.
Ava’s Treehouse will be the facility name of the building we just purchased and that’s where all of our programs will take place. It will be a place where families can come for the entire day. I want them to feel like a weight has been lifted off their shoulders when they walk through the doors. They know they’re coming to a fun, safe, clean place because when your kid has cancer, you’re either stuck at home or you’re at the hospital and it gets to be really, really isolating. I wanted a place where kids can actually be kids.

What are some of the challenges you face?
The biggest challenge we have right now is that we need more funding to help more families. In Arizona, one child a day is diagnosed with cancer. My goal is to be able to assist every single one of those families even if they don’t need help financially. I would just like to be a part of their lives and their experience. We work with about 300 families.

How does your fundraising work?
We’re 100 percent community supported. We don’t get any money from the government so we have a lot of private donors and companies help us. We have some professional sports players who have been involved and it’s always great to have their support. We’ve been very blessed.

How do you manage the crushing sadness you must feel when working with these kids and their families?
I get asked this all the time and I don’t know the magic answer. I think it’s how I deal with my grief of losing my daughter. We just had a family leave that comes here once a month and they had the best time and were so happy. People look at me and say, “We couldn’t live without you.” It’s really hard because we do lose kids that we assist. Last year we paid for 43 funerals. It can be hard and I try not to take it home with me, I guess. It’s almost like this is all I know how to do now. This is why I’m here and this is what I do.

What else would you like people to know about The Arizona Cancer Foundation for Children?
I don’t think people realize that when kids get cancer it affects the entire family. The hospital is so amazing focusing on the child’s well-being and health, but (in my case) no one ever looked at me and said, “How are you doing?” My daughter passed away 10 years ago, so maybe it has gotten better, but in my experience, there was nobody for me and I was lucky that I had great friends and family.