The Nathaniel K. Fenollosa Fund

Fund Helps Children Dealing with Trauma and Loss

The Fenollosa Family.

When Nat and Amy Fenollosa moved their family to the Connecticut Shoreline in 2010, they began to look for ways to support their community, continuing a history of philanthropic endeavors they had begun while living in Boston.

But in 2011, Nat was diagnosed with brain cancer, and Amy needed to find support for their two sons, who were 5 and 7 at the time. What she found was a void in resources and programs for young children dealing with a seriously ill parent.

"I was looking for a community where they could learn that they weren't unique in going through this experience," Amy said. She drove them to a program in Fairfield County for a time, but as Nat's cancer progressed, that weekly trip became more difficult.

"After he died, we knew we wanted to do something in his memory. I had it in the back of my mind all along that this was something that was really important and missing from our community, and was really needed."

Amy founded the Nathaniel K. Fenollosa Fund at The Community Foundation in order to receive the outpouring of memorial contributions that came from both the local community and across the country after Nat's death in early 2014.

She immediately went to work creating a legacy that would, in turn, benefit children and families affected by cancer and other serious illnesses. The first step was the Kids Ride for Kids, a memorial event and fundraiser held in May 2014 at Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison.

"Nat was very interested in cycling and wanted to set up something for children to ride their bikes for charity," she explained. "When we were planning his memorial service, we didn't think it was really appropriate for all the kids to attend, but we wanted them to have a chance to remember Nat in a positive way."

After that, Amy started to work on the organization that would become Kids HUGS (Hope, Understanding, Growth, and Support), meeting with a child psychiatrist, a child psychologist, and a child life specialist. By the end of the summer, they had a plan in place to provide resources and support for kids along the Shoreline who are coping with issues related to having a seriously ill parent.

"It really is the 'Hope' component that I would like other kids to feel," she said. "There is an opportunity for them to learn and grow and see the positive things in life during a difficult time, and understand that they're surrounded by a community of people who may be going through this and that there are lots of people who can support them and love them and care for them."

Through the peer support program, children are given a chance to recognize the emotions about their parent's illness – and express them – in a nurturing environment. The meetings usually involve some type of creative activity or art project, in honor of Nat's artistic talent and love of art. Partnering with the Women & Family Life Center in Guilford, Kids HUGS will hold Winter/Spring Session meetings twice a month through May.

"We've had phenomenal community volunteers come forward. People are incredible and I am so grateful to them for sharing themselves and giving their expertise, their time, and their experience," Amy said, noting that volunteers are always welcome to assist with the Kids HUGS programs.

Opening the Nathaniel K. Fenollosa Fund at The Community Foundation has taken a certain amount of weight off Amy's shoulders. Donations made through the Kids HUGS website go directly to the Fund.

"The Community Foundation is a good place to help take care of the money; I feel really good about having [the Fund] there," she said. And The Foundation's mission of creating positive and sustainable change is aligned with the purpose of Kids HUGS. "I believe the influence we will have on the children who participate in the program will give them life-long coping skills and help them be better contributing members of society. Regardless of what happens in their family situation, these are skills that will help them in any circumstance."

Creating a donor advised fund at The Community Foundation was also important to Amy, so she could decide where to grant funds as the need arises, be it Kids HUGS or another organization providing support for kids in related areas. But she isn't ready to look that far ahead yet; she wants to focus first on what's most important – the present.

"When someone you love has a life-threatening illness, your priorities change. The program is a great way to honor Nat and maintain a legacy and help other people because that's what he was always committed to," Amy said. "I've really been able to focus on what's important and do the things that are most meaningful to me. It helps me to feel better, knowing that I'm working toward something positive. To see it really come to fruition now is great."

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Nathaniel K. Fenollosa Fund