CLEVELAND — A Cleveland foundation is working to help children and families affected by pediatric cancer, and it all started with the wish of a young girl who believed she could make a difference in the lives of children who are also fighting the same battle.
Alisha Jones speaks of her daughter Courtney as only a mother can.
“Courtney is my angel. She was my daughter. A vibrant, loving, amazing girl,” said Jones.
Courtney was a bright light, and she loved to dance until cancer changed the choreography of their life.
"We took her to the doctor. Initially, we thought that she had some type of sinus infection. But then a bulge occurred on her neck,” her mother said.
At just 10 years old, Courtney was diagnosed with leukemia-lymphoma cancer.
The cancer may have changed the music and altered her routine, but it never changed her attitude.
"She strangely took it like a champ. She took it like a challenge,” Jones said.
As she endured painful chemotherapy and brain radiation, she had the support of her family and friends but noticed other children in the hospital did not.
"Mom I want to help these other kids," she said. "I really want to do something for them. Can we start a program?"
Her mother promised they would start a program after she got better, but that day never came. Not long after making her request, she became ill and was rushed to the hospital.
"She said ‘Mommy, I think I'm going to die today,’” her mother recalled.
"I said, 'Baby, you're not going to die today,'" Jones said. "Those were her last moments."
It wasn’t the last time the name Courtney Jones would be heard and felt. Out of death, the Courtney Jones Care and Cure Foundation was born.
"It just gives me a way to still be Courtney's mother, to help other families,” her mother said.
The foundation helps families like the Hawkins, who lost their 7-year-old daughter Genesis, affectionately known as Gigi, this year to cancer, helping Jessica Hawkins keep her daughter’s memory alive.
"Never thought this is what we would be fighting. We knew we needed to have photos with the entire family,” Hawkins said.
So while Gigi was still in treatment, the foundation arranged for a photo shoot of Gigi and her family at home, taking care of Gigi’s wardrobe and providing a precious moment of fun.
"It was so beautiful just to have photos done in our home with our family,” Hawkins said.
The Foundation services University Hospitals Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital, Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital and Akron Children’s Hospital.
Through the foundation, Courtney's spirit lives on.
“As long as I have breath in me, it’s always going to live on,” Jones said.
Starting next summer, the Courtney Jones Scholars Program will fund four underrepresented minority students to work as paid summer cancer research scholars at Case Western Reserve University’s Comprehensive Cancer Center.
This story is part of A Better Land, an ongoing series that investigates Northeast Ohio's deep-seated systemic problems. Additionally, it puts a spotlight on the community heroes fighting for positive change in Cleveland and throughout the region. If you have an idea for A Better Land story, tell us here.